April 20, 2018

Town hopes to benefit from free pond construction

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

The town of Williston and a South Burlington developer are trying to hash out a deal where a stormwater treatment pond would be built – a pond that Williston’s new fire station would need – at no cost to the town.

Chatham Woods LLC needs the pond for a condominium project off north Williston Road, and they want to construct it on town land in order to meet state environmental requirements. A civil engineering firm hired by Chatham Woods is trying to tweak the plans to accommodate residents near the proposed pond, but the Williston Selectboard wants things to move along more quickly.

The development; the town’s new fire station on U.S. Route 2; and a small piece of town-owned land off Country Lane are tied together by a massive area known as the Allen Brook sediment-impaired watershed.

A large part of the Allen Brook is considered by the state to be “impaired” by built-up sediment from stormwater runoff, so the state requires extra measures to filter out the sediment. The term “watershed” refers to an area within which all water drains into a certain body of water, in this case the Allen Brook.

The site for the fire station and the condo development lies within this impaired watershed area, and both will have primary stormwater treatment systems. But, according to the state, stormwater treatment systems can only filter out 80 percent of the sediment from the runoff. So in order to get a stormwater permit in an impaired watershed area, the other 20 percent must be compensated for, or offset, from somewhere else within the same watershed.

Chatham Woods has proposed building a pond on town land to filter out enough sediment to cover both the fire station’s and the company’s 46-unit development’s requirements. The fire station needs to offset about 220 pounds of sediment per year; and the condo development, about 800.

Chatham Woods hired O’Leary-Burke Civil Associates to design and oversee the project. At last week’s Selectboard meeting, O’Leary-Burke co-owner Paul O’Leary presented his plan for the pond to the town.

“We went in front of the Selectboard to make sure the town was going to go along with it,” O’Leary said.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons said the plan looked good, but the board wanted the project to get moving.

“We do generally approve of the project, but we need to see it moving along,” Lyons said. “Our build out of the fire house is dependent on having that stormwater offset.”

Under the deal with Chatham Woods, the pond would be built on town-owned land at the end of Country Lane, and would be paid for entirely by Chatham Woods, but after one year the town would take over maintenance of the pond.

The town’s land, in the Meadow Brook area, currently has a rudimentary stormwater collection system, but it does not meet state standards, because it was constructed in the 1960s, well before the state actually had standards. But it is precisely this fact that makes the site desirable to the developers.

O’Leary explained that in order to comply with standards within the impaired watershed area, new developments must construct stormwater offset projects in stormwater collection areas that do not have permits, such as the town’s land off Country Lane.

“There’s lots of places within Allen Brook that you can do improvements,” O’Leary said. “But you’re not allowed to use it as an offset if the place has a permit.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation expects to come up with long term plans to clean up all impaired watersheds in the state. After that is accomplished, stormwater collection and treatment sites would require new permits.

The town, by accepting Chatham Woods’ deal, would be saving a significant amount of money, and would be bringing one of its older stormwater collection sites up to higher environmental standards.

“That’s why it seemed like a win-win situation,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire. “The project helped the developer, it helped the town, and it fixed an environmental problem.”

O’Leary said he is trying to accommodate the concerns of the residents who live near the proposed pond site before bringing the plan before the Williston Development Review Board.

One resident, Norman Rapoport, said he has lived in the neighborhood near the site for 32 years.

“If it didn’t have to happen at all that would be better,” said Rapoport, 58. “I know it’s going to have to be done eventually, so I guess I might as well accept it to be done now.”

Rapoport said he supports the town and the new fire station, but that he and others had concerns about the pond being a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and also about the landscaping of the pond. But he said he felt his concerns were being addressed by the civil engineers.

“So far I have been reasonably satisfied with the way it’s being handled,” Rapoport said. “I just want to make sure that continues.”

O’Leary said he would like to meet with residents once more, and bring his plans before the DRB in the next month.

[Read more…]

Tarrant offers alternative take on tradional Republican views

Millionaire has fresh ideas, but lacks concrete plans to implement them

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Richard Tarrant, millionaire businessman and fledgling politician, has some lofty ideas for the country.

While definitely Republican, Tarrant’s political leanings are hard to qualify absolutely. He disagrees with President Bush on Iraq, but he has given money to anti-abortion causes. But he also donated campaign funds to a liberal Democrat, and he wants to change the country’s health care system. Tarrant has views that depart from traditional Republican thinking, and he does not hesitate to express them.

When asked if he agrees with President Bush on staying the course in Iraq, his answer is immediate:

“No. I think we have to get out sooner than he appears to believe,” Tarrant said in an interview last week with the Observer. He did not have a plan or a timetable for withdrawal, but merely said it was time to leave.

“(The United States) had a civil war a hundred years after the democracy was formed,” he said. “Are we going to wait in Iraq a hundred years just in case civil war breaks out? It’s time to get out.”

Tarrant, 63, announced his plans to run as the GOP candidate for senate last month. Tarrant, co-founder of IDX Systems Corp. in South Burlington, hopes to replace retiring Sen. James Jeffords, I- Vt.

Since Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie announced last week he would not be running for the seat, Tarrant’s only challengers for the GOP nomination are state Sen. Mark Shepard of Bennington County and ex-fighter pilot Greg Parke of Rutland. The Republican nominee will face Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2006 election.

GE Healthcare bought IDX Systems last month in a deal valued at $1.2 billion. After the buyout, Tarrant, who owned about 8 percent of IDX shares, netted about $108 million from sale of his stock in the company.

While some people wonder whether the multi-millionaire had his own best interests at heart and is leaving Vermont employees at IDX out to dry, Tarrant said the deal was based on what the Board of Directors thought was best for IDX stockholders.

“If something comes along that’s good for the stockholders, an 8-percenter can’t say ‘No, no, no, we’re not going to do it,’” he said. “Because that’s when you get sued and you go to jail.”

Tarrant insisted that his loyalty was to the stockholders, not his own personal interest.

“When it became obvious that IDX could do a lot better with a company that could expand its products worldwide, it was just a matter of who you sell to and who’s the best buyer,” he said. “It’s not like I could have said no.”

Tarrant said that although nothing was put down on paper, most of the IDX jobs in Vermont are here to stay. He hinted that some jobs may be lost, but expansion is in the future for the company, which is located off U.S. Route 7.

“In the interim there may be some jobs that go away, clerical jobs or whatever, “ Tarrant said. “But over the long haul, if you’re a businessperson, and you want to take business advice from me, I would tell you to buy property on Shelburne Road. Because they’re going to need it.”

Tarrant said GE Healthcare was most interested in the radiology system, which was developed in Vermont.

“In software you’re buying grey matter,” he said. “You’re not buying hard assets, you’re not buying an assembly line, you’re not buying cheese-making machines. You’re buying the people.”

He said the software engineers in Vermont are an asset to GE Healthcare, and the company would not be likely to move IDX.

“They are not going to move those people,” he said. “These people wouldn’t move, they can get jobs anywhere . They would lose the product if they moved them. It just can’t happen.”

Health care veteran

As president of IDX, a medical software company, Tarrant has been in the health care business for over three decades.

“I’ve seen everything there is to see in health care,” he said. “With that kind of experience, I want to go to Washington and grab the health care system by its neck and start trying to fix it.”

Tarrant said he wants to create what he calls New Medicare, or Medicare Part E, which would be open to farmers, small businesses and uninsured people. A means test would determine how much a person would pay in premiums. He said in his system, half the country would be under New Medicare, and the other half would use a free-market system.

“The plan I’m putting together is free-market based,” he said. “But it covers many of the aspects that the single-payer advocates are fighting for.”

Eventually, Tarrant said, he would want Medicaid merged into Medicare.

“Medicaid is a 50-state disaster,” he said. “Every governor and every Legislature in the country are being suffocated by the budgetary requirements of supporting Medicaid.”

As for how he would pay for all of these reforms, he simply said the money is there already.

“The cost of treating the uninsured, and the care of the uninsured is in the system now, period,” he said. “And it’s in at a more expensive level than it should be.”

He explained that charity care, cost-shifting, and the fact that many people suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, that are not caught until costly measures are necessary, are eating up the money needed for his reforms, but he lacked a specific plan for changing the system.

“Over the long haul the cost is in the system,” he said. “The trick is, the political trick is how do you move it from one side to the other?”

On a similar note, Tarrant said he thinks the most important issue facing the country right now, besides health care, is rampant government spending.

“The single biggest issue is we are hocking our future right now,” Tarrant said. “I’m a Republican. But the Republican administration and the Republican Congress – with the Democrats’ help – are spending money like crazy. “

With his business background, Tarrant says he wants to rein in the “financial juggernaut” that he says the country has no way to pay for.

“We need some rigor in the budgeting process, ” he said. “And we need someone who can stand up to the crazy spending, and someone who’s got some background, and who understands the downstream effects of what happens when you spend this kind of money.”

On abortion

Tarrant said he believes that Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land, and as senator he would support it.

“Introducing a constitutional amendment would be a waste of time,” he said. “It would never pass, so I think we just need to move on. “

But his personal feelings may be different. The weekly newspaper Seven Days reported recently that a charitable foundation in Tarrant’s name has a policy to not give grants to organizations that are “a proponent of free choice as it relates to abortion.”

“I think everybody is opposed to abortion,” said Tarrant, the father of two adopted daughters. “The (Richard E. Tarrant) Foundation will not pay for performing abortions, is basically what that’s about.”

According to Federal Elections Committee documents, Tarrant gave $1,500 to the Vermont Right to Life Committee in 1998, a fact that would corroborate his foundation’s policy. Tarrant also gave $2,000 to the Bush campaign, as well as $1,000 to the Republican National Committee during the last election.

But his donations don’t completely spell “conservative. “ FEC filings also show that Tarrant contributed $2,000 to Howard Dean’s campaign, Dean For America, in 2003.

His baseball loyalties are much more cut-and-dry, however. When asked about his team affiliation, he does not hesitate: “Red Sox.”

Observer staff reporter Greg Elias contributed to this report.

[Read more…]

Richmond bridge could go back to one-lane traffic

Renovations likely in 2009

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Richmond’s Checkered House truss bridge will get a $9 million makeover in the next 2-3 years, according to state and local officials. But before that happens, drivers might see the bridge closed to two-way traffic as it was over the summer.

Until the renovations begin, the 76-year-old bridge will remain up and running, while being inspected at least once a year for potential problems. The bridge was narrowed to one lane of traffic in July, due to rust and cracks in the floor structure, but was reopened to two-way traffic in October.

“We are inspecting it on an annual basis now,” said Roger Whitcomb, who is overseeing the project for the state. “There is a possibility that it will be down to one lane again. There are a number of places where it is rusty.”

Whitcomb said the bridge, located on U.S. Route 2 between Williston and Richmond, was not made to withstand the amount of traffic it sees now, but some of the bridge is sturdy enough to reuse.

“It was built in 1929, so it wasn’t built to the same standards we have today,” Whitcomb said. “The trusses themselves are pretty rugged. … Those are rugged enough that we can reuse them.”

He said the new, widened bridge will have basically the same design as the current bridge, but will have a new floor system to increase the load capacity.

Richmond Town Administrator Ron Rodjenski said he is looking forward to having the project completed. The town held a meeting Oct. 20 to discuss the project with the public. Rodjenski said the response was positive and things are moving forward.

“It’s as close as it’s been to being fixed in a long time,” Rodjenski said.

He said that possibly as early as 2008, a temporary bridge will be set up while the construction takes place. The proposed plan would leave the south edge of the bridge about where it is, and the north edge of the bridge will be moved out to make it about 30 feet wide. Meanwhile, the temporary bridge would allow traffic to pass while the bridge is being rebuilt.

Whitcomb said there was a “slight possibility” construction would begin in 2008, but a more likely start date would be in 2009.

Renovation plans have been in the works for almost 10 years, Rodjenski said. But because of historic preservation issues, and design issues, the plans have had to be revised numerous times.

The 350-foot-long bridge is the longest truss bridge in Vermont, and so it has unique historical value.

Whitcomb works on bridge projects all over the state for the Agency of Transportation, but said the Richmond bridge is worth the extra effort.

“This particular one is pretty special, so I think it’s worth saving,” he said.

But, he cautioned that the current condition of the bridge was not ideal, and the bridge could go down to one lane again.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again,” he said.

[Read more…]

Residents sound off on Circ Highway alternatives

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Residents sounded off on roundabouts and expressed a wide range of other opinions during a meeting in Williston last week to discuss alternatives to the Circumferential Highway.

About 60 people turned out for a lively two-hour session held Nov. 17 at Williston Central School. It was the third of three meetings on the subject last week — the others were in Richmond and Burlington — and followed numerous other public sessions held earlier this year.

Most who spoke out seemed knowledgeable about the topic. Several had specific ideas about which among the eight alternatives should be chosen and how it should be configured.

For example, as Larry Pesesky of the Louis Berger Group, the consultant helping conduct the meeting, indicated places where roundabouts would be placed on Route 2A under one alternative, Williston resident Larry Currier chimed in. He said one roundabout was too large to fit in the existing right of way.

“You just took my house and my neighbor’s across the street,” said Currier, who lives at the intersection of Industrial Avenue and Route 2A. The remark elicited chuckles from the crowd.

“I’m not taking anything,” Pesesky replied good-naturedly. He emphasized that the next step of the process will analyze such factors as right of way in greater detail.

The meetings represent the start of the third part of the five-step, court-mandated process to determine whether the long-debated Circumferential Highway should be built or another option is picked. The process of completing a new Environmental Impact Study has to date narrowed dozens of initial options to a list of eight choices, which can be more broadly grouped into three categories and a “no-build” alternative.

Last week’s meetings will help guide officials as they look at the alternatives in detail on the way toward making their final choice. About 100 people in all attended the sessions.

“Hopefully, people who participate will understand the process better and understand the way decisions were made,” said Rich Ranaldo, project manager for the Vermont Department of Transportation. He said the meetings also allow transportation officials to learn how the public feels about the various proposals.

Pesesky conducted the proceeding in an informal manner, allowing the public to interrupt as he presented each alternative.

Jeff Perrin of Essex Junction said changes on Route 2A will do little to solve congestion at the Five Corners.

“It seems like all these options keep current amounts of traffic funneled through the Five Corners,” he said. “I’d like to know how all of these will ease traffic flow there. I’d just like to see consideration of the points beyond” Route 2A.

Mike Coates, who lives off Route 2A in Williston, worried that if the thoroughfare was widened it could worsen the already difficult process of exiting side streets.

“It defeats the purpose if people can’t get out,” he said.

Long-time supporters of the Circ urged officials to choose that option, which is still on the table. Others liked one of the alternatives.

Williston resident and business owner Sharon Gutwin said she preferred the option that calls for following the Circ’s original route with a boulevard rather than a divided highway.

“I see the limited access boulevard as a beautiful compromise,” she said. “If you wanted to cross it on foot you could.”

Pesesky told the crowd that the number of alternatives has been narrowed from 50 to 23 to eight during previous parts of the yearlong process by which transportation officials will arrive at a final decision.

The goal of whatever option is chosen is to ease traffic on the overburdened Route 2A. About 19,000 vehicles a day travel the road between Williston and Essex. That number is expected to increase to more than 30,000 vehicles by the year 2025.

Over the next several months, state and federal officials will study the options in greater detail, focusing on how each would improve traffic along Route 2A while considering their environmental and socio-economic impacts.

This spring, officials will produce a draft Environmental Impact Statement and hold formal public hearings. They will then select a preferred alternative and produce the final EIS this summer.

As originally proposed decades ago, the Circumferential Highway was a 16-mile loop road running from I-89 in Williston to Colchester. Just a small section of the highway in Essex has been built to date.

Construction of the Williston segment had begun in May 2004 when a federal judge ordered the project halted until an updated Environmental Impact Study was completed.

[Read more…]

Officials cut worst of circ alternatives

Plans involving home demolitions nixed

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Detouring around controversy, transportation officials have eliminated road-building proposals that would have routed thoroughfares near Williston neighborhoods.

A list of 23 options was narrowed to four as part of a court-mandated process that has been underway the past several months. The Environmental Impact Study will determine if the Circumferential Highway is built or another option is chosen.

The four options picked include building the Circ along its originally proposed route from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont Route 117 in Essex, adding lanes and improving intersections along Vermont Route 2A, or doing nothing.

Federal and state transportation officials axed 19 other proposals, some of which would have run new roads or widened existing ones through residential areas.

One option ran a new highway near Old Stage Road and would have involved buying property or even demolishing homes along the route. Another would have widened North Williston Road and a portion of Oak Hill Road, again requiring the purchase of private property. A third called for widening South and North Brownell roads to four lanes from Interstate 89 to Industrial Avenue.

The proposals prompted an Oct. 18 letter from Williston Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons opposing any proposal that deviated from the Circ as originally planned.

“Should the other build alternatives be pursued, they could have a dramatic negative impact on our community that runs counter to plans Williston has worked toward for the past 20 years,” she wrote.

The Circumferential Highway’s original route takes it near residential areas, too, specifically the South Ridge and Brennan Woods subdivisions. But the neighborhoods’ residents have known for years that the thoroughfare was planned.

In contrast, information about the new proposals was difficult to find. Details about the options were located pages deep in the study’s Web site, www.eis.org. Though the ideas were discussed at public meetings, none of those sessions were held in Williston.

Following inquiries from the Observer, the Web site was updated, and a link explaining the alternatives was added to the site’s home page.

Those involved with the process said it was necessary to look at all options — no matter how controversial — to ensure nothing was overlooked. But they acknowledge that the routes in and around residential areas could have affected the environment and provoked residents.

“Some of the environmental effects could have been showstoppers,” said Rob Sikora, environmental program specialist with the Federal Highway Administration office in Vermont. “You might have had profound impacts on nearby residents.”

Rich Ranaldo, Circ project manager for the state Agency of Transportation, emphasized that the first consideration in choosing options was whether they met the purpose and needs statement for the EIS study: improving mobility and safety along the Route 2A corridor while mitigating environmental impacts.

But he also said the time and expense of having to acquire property — and the possibility the state would have to purchase homes or condemn them if the owners refused to sell — was a consideration. The state long ago acquired the right of way for the Circ.

“Certainly, the impact on the environment as well as issues related to the taking of property were considered,” Ranaldo said.

As originally proposed, the Circ Highway carved a 16-mile arc through Chittenden County from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont Route 127 in Colchester. Only a small section of it has been built in Essex.

Preliminary work on the highway’s Williston segment had begun last year when a federal judge ordered construction halted until a new environmental study was conducted. The process includes considering alternatives to building the Circ.

Supporters of the highway say it is desperately needed to relieve congestion along Route 2A. Opponents, including Smart Growth Collaborative, the coalition of environmental groups that sued to stop construction, say there are more environmentally friendly, less costly ways to cope with traffic congestion.

A long list of options was compiled by state and federal officials after public meetings were held, part of a process called “scoping,” the first of the EIS process’s five steps.

The long list included 23 options in all. Some on the list included divided highways like the original Circ design but were located along a different route. Several other options involved widening existing roads.

For example, one alternative called for widening North Williston and Oak Hill roads to four lanes from Interstate 89 to Route 117 in Essex. That choice would have involved acquiring extensive right of way.
Another road-widening option was proposed for North and South Brownell roads. The project would have converted the road from two to four lanes and added a new exit to the interstate.

But perhaps the most controversial option involved building a limited access highway mimicking the Circ design but aligning it east of the original route, taking it between the South Ridge subdivision and Turtle Pond Road. It would have come close to or cut though wetlands and neighborhoods.

Many of the remaining options involved widening Route 2A or constructing the Circ, in some cases by combining interchange improvements with other projects.

Among that long list were proposals by the Smart Growth Collaborative, which earlier this year outlined three Circ alternatives: building a boulevard-style road called “ Circ Street” along the original Circ route; improving traffic flow along Route 2A with a series of roundabouts between Taft Corners and the Five Corners in Essex; and doing both projects. Those proposals have been in part incorporated into the four alternatives that made the cut.

The first option on the short list calls for improvements to Route 2A that could include road widening, synchronizing traffic signals or adding roundabouts. The second option includes those same improvements plus building Circ Street.

The third choice involves building the Circ Highway as originally proposed between Interstate 89 in Williston to the existing segment in Essex. The highway could be limited access or a boulevard that would include intersections, as proposed by Smart Growth Collaborative. The option could be combined with Route 2A improvements.

Finally, a “no build” option that would maintain the status quo is still on the table.

In the coming weeks, additional public meetings will be held, and the four alternatives and their variations will be analyzed in detail for their environmental impact, affect on development patterns and cost.

Then a draft of the EIS will be prepared and the public and other government agencies will be given another chance to comment before the final choice is made.

In narrowing the options to four, transportation officials tried to balance the public’s input with their professional judgment about what would best meet the study’s purpose and needs statement, said Jim Purdy, principal planner with The Louis Berger Group, the consultant hired to help conduct the EIS.

“It wasn’t a political decision,” he said. “We very much want to take the comments people make into consideration. But it isn’t a popularity contest.”

[Read more…]

Number of English Language Learners doubles in school district

Trend mirrors national stats

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston resident Yetha Lumumba moved to Vermont from Democratic Republic of the Congo during tenth grade. Three times a week, the high school senior joins his Champlain Valley Union High School peers from a variety of countries to learn English as a second language.

Lumumba, a native French speaker, and his classmates are among a growing number of English Language Learners (ELL). The number of ELL students in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, of which Williston is a part, has nearly doubled in the last year. Williston residents comprise more than half of the population. The tally of ELL students this week: Allen Brook School, 7; CVU High School, 12; Williston Central School, 17. The numbers will change; three new ELL students are expected at Williston Central this month.

“The whole program is constantly evolving,” said Johanna Shaw, one of two full-time teachers of English as a second language in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union. A year ago, Shaw served as an English language tutor 15 hours a week. By June, she was up to 30 hours. Last month, Shaw became full-time, shuttling between CVU, Charlotte Central School, Hinesburg Community School, and Williston Central School.

“It’s really important to recognize that this (increase in numbers) is a national demographic trend,” said Jim McCobb, the ELL education program coordinator for the Vermont Department of Education. “It’s a trend that is being seen in most states in the country and it will probably continue.”

Some ELL students are from new immigrant families. Some are adoptees taken in by long-time residents. And some are children of refugees. The 53-plus students currently in the supervisory union represent 12 native languages.

“It’s a very diverse population in terms of languages represented, cultures they come from, family background, parents’ education… and all of those factors can have a big impact on the educational program,” McCobb said.

“I think that there are going to be more and more classroom teachers, grade level teachers, that have students from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds,” McCobb said. “It’s important they understand some of the strategies for teaching those students… and how to communicate with their parents,”

Helping core academic teachers understand the learning differences of non-native English speakers is one of the roles of Shaw and colleague Carol Grau, who works at Allen Brook School, Williston Central School, and Shelburne Community School.

“The teacher should not feel that they’re not doing the right job with these students,” said Grau. Nor should the children feel the stress accompanied by insufficient support, she continued. “They should never feel left behind.”

The federal government, in its No Child Left Behind legislation, expects all English learners to become “proficient.” While there is not yet clarity on how proficiency is defined, there are clues. Grau said the law dictates that these students be included in federal assessment results after only one year in the U.S. In October, said Grau, the state expected students who had been in the U.S. only a month to take the math portion of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) state assessment.

State educators recognized the need to assess English language learners in a way that supports English language instruction aligned with state academic standards. Last spring, the state switched to a new assessment tool that focuses on academic – rather than social – English language proficiency.

Social, or day-to-day, language requires a year or two to develop, according to McCobb. Academic language proficiency, on the other hand, “takes five to seven years,” McCobb said, “assuming that you’re enrolled in a language instructional program that’s helping you to develop those skills. And it can take longer than that.”

In the classroom, for example, a teacher may think an ELL student understands everything because the student is socially proficient; the student, however, is struggling with content vocabulary.

Williston resident Viktor Jagar experienced this in middle school. Born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jagar failed an in-class essay test.

“I knew absolutely everything,” Jagar said, explaining that verbally he could articulate the answers to the teacher. “It’s harder to word it on paper than to talk about it.”

Jagar, now a sophomore, said he still needs Shaw’s assistance after eight years in Vermont. He said Serbo-Croatian is the dominant language spoken in his home.

“Even now there are faults in my language,” said Jagar, a self-described “computer geek” who loves helping other students and teachers with technology.

“I’m not on that same level as everybody else is,” Jagar said. “For an English person or an American child, they’re on a level higher than me because they’ve lived here their whole life. I’ve been living here for just eight years now. It doesn’t match their 16 or 17 or 18 years that they have been living with their mom or their dad speaking English.”

Examples of the more challenging nuances for a non-native speaker were evident in a dictation exercise Shaw read to students last Friday morning. Students hunched over papers filling in missing words as Shaw read from a complete script.

Distinguishing weave from we’ve was difficult for the students, as was distinguishing again from egging (as in “egging on”). Is it close-range or clothes-range?

And then there are idioms, those peculiar expressions that don’t make sense grammatically, unless you’ve always known them.

If you set off to learn a new language, saddledwith the responsibility of learning science and history in that new language, how might your story unfold?

The ELL students at CVU will tell you that “Johanna,” as they call Shaw, is important to their story.

Lumumba, who’s balancing AP chemistry, physics and pre-calculus with applied English and working 18 to 24 hours a week, summarized: “She helps us a lot.”

[Read more…]

Need rises for heating help

Demand puts strain on local, state programs

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Despite an unseasonably warm November so far, Vermonters are beginning to get nervous about winter heating bills – and so are the regional organizations that are in place to help them. But, there are measures people can take to get help for the winter season.

Officials with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity said people are already facing problems with their heating bills. The CVOEO is a state agency designed to help Vermonters take advantage of federal and state aid.

“We are already seeing people who have never applied for assistance before coming in here in panic mode,” said Vicki Fletcher, Crisis Fuel and Warmth coordinator for CVOEO. “And it’s only November.”

In Williston, there are several avenues open to residents through federal and state programs, as well as various religious organizations.

Some local churches offer assistance, whether or not they are members of the congregation. The Williston Federated Church, for example, does not have a heating assistance program, but may offer help to individuals on a case-by-case basis, church personnel said.

The Maranatha Christian Church on South Brownell Road does not have a specific fuel assistance program either, but they do sometimes provide financial help to people in need, according to church officials.

Leo Garcia, the accountant for Maranatha, said the church takes collections a few times a year for their “Acts 4” program. The name refers to the Book of Acts, Chapter 4, in the Christian bible. The chapter describes how apostles Peter and John encourage their followers to share their money and property to help those in need.

“We have helped people that have called us up that are not in the body of Christ,” Garcia said, referring to churchgoers. “It’s always a decision made on an individual basis.”

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on Williston Road assists people through the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The diocese has an Emergency Aid Program, to which parishioners may apply. Non-parishioners may also apply through the church, but aid is capped at $50, and only if funds are available, according to the diocese’s Web site.

The town of Williston also has a small amount of money, about $2,000, budgeted for resident assistance. Town officials encourage residents to go to regional offices first, however. There are three levels of state heating assistance available to Williston residents: Seasonal Fuel Assistance; Crisis Fuel Assistance; and the privately funded Warmth program. Another program, ShareHeat, is available to customers of CVPS, which does not serve Williston.

Funding issues

The federal government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) gives funding to states for fuel assistance. Last year, Vermont received about $11 million in funding. Lawmakers in Washington have not yet approved changes in fuel assistance budgets, so LIHEAP funding for the fiscal year 2006 has yet to be established.

This year, the cost of fuel has risen dramatically, and money for the programs will probably be tight, according to CVOEO Executive Director Tim Searles. Searles said that due to Congressional indecision, he expects the federal funding to remain at the same level as last year. Increased demand for help will also put a strain on the programs, he said.

“The state supplemental program is already running about 3,000 applications ahead of last year,” he said. “In terms of Warmth and ShareHeat, we’re definitely seeing more people in our waiting rooms and more people applying.”

Searles said the price of kerosene and No. 2 heating oil this year costs a full dollar more per gallon than last year. And since the crisis fuel program pays for at least 100 gallons of fuel, the agency must spend $100-$150 more per household assisted than last year.

“That’s going to put us over very quickly,” Searles said.

The Vermont State Emergency Board, chaired by Gov. Jim Douglas, approved shifting $7 million over to the Seasonal Fuel Assistance program earlier this month. The money is going to be taken from the corrections budget and the Home Weatherization Assistance Trust Fund, according to new reports.

“Not one nickel of that has gone to our crisis program,” Searles said. “They have done nothing to eliminate the emergency need.”

However, an administration official said that problem could be solved soon.

“(Gov. Douglas) has every intention of diverting all additional federal contingency funds received directly into the Crisis Fuel Assistance programs,” said Jason Gibbs, Gov. Douglas’ spokesman. “ We are expecting the federal money to become available in the coming weeks. The bottom line is that low-income Vermonters who need emergency heating assistance will be able to receive it.”

Types of help

Seasonal assistance takes longer to process and people must apply for it in advance. Usually people who have received aid the previous year will automatically receive an application the next year.

Eligible people who apply for seasonal assistance before Nov. 30 will receive full benefits – the amount of which varies depending on a person’s situation – by Jan. 15. Those who apply after Nov. 30 will still receive benefits but they will be less than 100 percent of the help available.

However, people who are experiencing a heating crisis before their seasonal benefits kick in can apply for crisis fuel assistance.

The crisis assistance program, which begins on the last Monday in November (this year it falls on Nov. 28), is administered by Chittenden Community Action in Burlington, and is there to help families with a heating crisis. A “crisis” is defined as when a home’s heating system is about to be shut off due to lack of payment, or when a home’s fuel tank is less than 1/4 full.

The program pays for 100 gallons of fuel, or pays the current charges on the heating bill. All money is paid directly to the fuel company. If paying the current charges is not enough to prevent a shut-off, money from the Warmth program kicks in.

Unlike the federally funded seasonal and crisis fuel assistance programs, Warmth is funded entirely by private donations from businesses and individuals.

Warmth money can be used up to three times in a season, and provides $75 toward fuel delivery or toward overdue charges.

The Warmth program and crisis program have a higher income cap (185 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty level respectively) than the seasonal assistance program (125 percent).

Fletcher said some people are discouraged from applying for assistance because they don’t understand the income-level guidelines. But, she said, the best way for a person to find out if they are eligible is just to apply.

“Once we get them into our office, usually 15 minutes and the crisis is solved,” she said.

Other options

Some Vermonters are turning to alternative methods of heating as the cold months approach. Rose Comyns, a salesperson at Stove and Flag Works in Williston, said sales are brisk.

“Definitely, we’ve had more pellet sales this year,” she said, “And wood stove sales are going very well, also.”

Donna Emerson, a sales representative at Heating Alternatives on Williston Road, echoed Comyns’ comments. Heating Alternatives sells wood and gas stoves, but not pellet stoves.

“We definitely have seen an increase in wood stove sales,” Emerson said. “I have worked here for four years and this is definitely the year for wood.”

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Local Medicare access network formed

Program aims to reduce anxiety about new drug benefit

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie recently announced the creation of a statewide network that will help educate Vermonters about the new federal Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

The Medicare Rx Access Network of Vermont hopes to reach the state’s 96,000-plus Medicare beneficiaries. Enrollment for the new prescription drug benefit began on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of Vermonters that have some anxiety about how to enroll,” Dubie said at the announcement at Racquet’s Edge Health and Community Fitness Center in Essex Junction. “Not a single Medicare beneficiary has to do this alone. We will do this with you.”

Medicare covers doctor visits and hospitalizations. Until now, it has not covered prescription drugs. Medicare beneficiaries who enroll prior to Dec. 31 are eligible for prescription drug coverage starting Jan. 1 of next year.

The new Medicare Rx Access Network is comprised of 16 organizations which represent seniors, patients, people with disabilities and chronic diseases, pharmacists, health care providers and businesses.

Network officials said that Medicare beneficiaries with limited incomes – approximately 30,000 Vermonters – will get extra help from the new coverage but have to pay little or nothing in return.

Joan Senecal, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, said that Medicare Part D will be a help to Vermonters who do not currently have prescription drug coverage. Though some states are dropping their state prescription drug coverage, Vermont is not. Starting Jan. 1, Vermonters who have Medicare coverage and are enrolled in a State pharmacy program will be covered by a new program called VPharm, said Senecal.

“It’s certainly wonderful that the state has kept its strong pharmacy programs in existence,” said John Barbour, executive director of the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging. “For a lot of those people, there will be virtually no change in the benefits they receive,” he continued.

Senecal said the state will automatically enroll people with Medicare and State pharmacy coverage in one of 11 Medicare Part D plans. Those with State pharmacy coverage should have received letters about their assignment last week.

Beneficiaries should check their assigned plan to ensure the drugs they take are included on that plan’s drug list. If the plan is not the best match, beneficiaries may change plans any time before midnight on Dec. 31. One additional change is allowed before May 15.

State officials hope it won’t be complicated. Senecal said that more than 250 educational sessions are being conducted around the state in senior centers and libraries.

And for those who continue to have questions, help may be a phone call away – if you can get through. Early reports indicate a high call volume. With a list of their prescription drugs; dosages; and current drug coverage information, Medicare beneficiaries can get assistance by calling the State Health Insurance and Assistance Program at 1-800-642-5119.

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Business will serve its last donut on Nov. 30

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Doug Peacock sips coffee as he and his friends lament the impending closure of their regular hangout, Koval’s Coffee.

“We’re just disappointed,” says Peacock, who had met with Stanley Morse and Charles Smith early Monday morning for their near-daily coffee and talk. “I’ve bought donuts here for years. This is part of our hometown.”

The restaurant in Taft Corners Shopping Center in Williston will close at end of this month after 19 years of making donuts and serving sandwiches. Customers say they will miss Koval’s, which is as much a spot to socialize as a place to eat.

“It broke my heart,” says Debbie Endresen, a regular customer for the past eight years, of her feelings after learning Koval’s would close. “I don’t know where I’m going to get my coffee. There won’t be a place to talk to my friends.” She glances toward the waitresses and smiles. “And no one to give crap to anymore.”

The operation is run by Marge Koval, with the help of several of her seven children and 10 other employees. She says a soon-to-expire lease, the grind of years of grueling work and rising costs convinced her to call it quits.

Customers, most of whom on this Monday seemed to be on a first-name basis with the staff, mourned the passing of a place that served as an oasis from the modern world. Most of the patrons were older than 40, and the lack of wireless Internet access and mocha lattes seemed just fine with them.

“I’m not picking on Starbucks,” says Peacock. “It’s just not my lifestyle.”

Roger Prior, another long-time customer, comes in most mornings for coffee and donuts. His face lights up as he talks of the wisecracking waitresses and the friendly atmosphere. “I’m sure I’ll find someplace else to go,” he says. “But it won’t have the flavor of this place.”

When Koval’s opened in 1986, there were few restaurants in Williston and cows grazed on land big-box retailers and chain restaurants now occupy. Only two other businesses operated at Taft Corners Shopping Center.

Marge Koval had been running a day-care center and her late husband, Ed, worked at General Electric. But GE was downsizing, so the couple was looking for another way to make a living.

Marge noticed an advertisement for a company called The Whole Donut that was looking to open a franchise in the area. The business was born, first named after the franchise and then changing to Koval’s in the mid-’90s.

Within a few years of opening the Williston shop, the business expanded to include outlets in Essex’s Lang Farm and on State Street in Montpelier. At their peak, family members say they were making thousands of dozens of donuts daily in Williston, enough to supply all their shops as well as wholesalers.

“But these other stores did not take off like the one in Williston,” says Marge Koval. The Essex and Montpelier outlets closed in 1997. Another Koval’s, located in Hinesburg and owned and operated independently by her son, Gary, will remain in business.

Much has changed over the years for Marge Koval. Her husband died in 2001. Competition has grown fierce.

Decades ago, Koval’s was the only place of its kind in Williston. Now there are competitors everywhere.

“The pie is definitely getting cut into smaller pieces,” says Marge Koval. “Every corner gas station and every convenience store has donuts and coffee. And there are so many restaurants.”

At first, Williston’s growing commercial base was a boon for Koval’s, bringing in walk-in customers who frequented other businesses, says son Eric Koval, who makes donuts on the graveyard shift at the restaurant, then goes to work as a disc jockey at The Point, 104.7-FM. But as time went on, the growing number of alternatives in Williston — Starbucks, 99 Restaurant and a host of others — squeezed Koval’s.

“It’s the end of another mom and pop business,” Eric Koval says. “It’s the quickening of corporate America. The whole area is becoming homogenized.”

There’s nothing homogenized about Koval’s, not with comfort food that includes homemade soups and sandwiches and two wisecracking waitresses, Jackie Owen and Pam Young, who regularly serve up a good-natured ribbing.

The atmosphere on Monday morning was nearly giddy. When customer Peggy Larson notes that Koval’s is “an institution,” Young quips, “It’s an institution all right!”

“They love to hear jokes and have us pick on them,” says Young, who has been at Koval’s for three years. She recalls one customer who felt so comfortable with the jokey atmosphere that he mooned her — right on the sidewalk outside the restaurant’s front window.

Both women get moist-eyed as they talk about saying goodbye to Koval’s. “I’m gong to miss my co-workers and my customers,” says Owen, who has worked at the restaurant for 12-1/2 years.

David Koval is also emotional about the closing. It was his full-time job from 1987 to 2000, and he says the experience “took my soul.” He still helps when needed, along with his wife, Monika.

“It’s a great community spot,” he says. “We offered something you don’t see anymore. It’s not a conglomerate. It’s what Williston was.”

Peacock, Smith and Morse, all members of Trinity Baptist Church in Williston, say they don’t know where they’ll meet once Koval’s closes. But they are sure whatever place they choose won’t be as freewheeling.

“There isn’t any other owner that will put up with our shenanigans,” says Morse.

Marge Koval is unsure of what she will do when her coffee shop closes on Nov. 30, only that it will be more relaxing than churning out donuts and sandwiches. She says she will miss her employees and customers as much as they will miss her restaurant.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” she says. “My heart will be left behind in a lot of ways. But the love of my customers and employees will lead me in my next direction.”

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Hunger hits hard in Vermont

Many Williston families struggling

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The percent of Vermont families experiencing the most severe category of hunger has doubled since 1999 – the largest state increase in the country, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Williston residents and those in neighboring towns are not immune to food supply struggles.

The report “drives home that many more families are having a more difficult time putting food on the table,” said Robert Dostis, executive director of the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger. “They’re diverting their limited resources to put towards fuel, health care, transportation, rent. As a result, there’s less money to buy food.”

According to the USDA report, nine percent of all Vermonters are “food insecure,” meaning that they are unable to consistently obtain enough safe and nutritious food. A subset of food insecure households, the percent of Vermonters who experience hunger, has doubled – from 1.8 percent in 1999-2001 to 3.6 percent in 2002-2004. According to a Center on Hunger and Poverty analysis of the USDA report, Vermont saw the most dramatic increase in household hunger – 100 percent.

Dostis notes the USDA study was done at a time when heating and transportation costs were not as high as they are now, meaning that currently there is even less money going toward food in food-insecure households.

Grasping the number of local residents impacted by hunger is difficult. The USDA report provides data only on a state-wide basis, so community-specific analysis is not possible. Anecdotal evidence, however, and statistics of emergency food access, food stamp usage and federal poverty level numbers tell part of the local story.

“I do receive calls here – what I would characterize as regularly – from people looking for food donations from this area,” said Thomas Davidson, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Williston.

Sarah Barnett, administrative coordinator at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, said that 288 residents of Williston, Richmond and St. George received emergency groceries during the 2004 fiscal year, the most recent statistics available. Individuals and families may pick up a five-day supply of emergency groceries once a month; every third month they are eligible for a second pick-up.

Williston does not have its own food pantry, according to a town hall official. Outside of Burlington, Williston residents are served by the Heavenly Food Pantry located at the First Congregational Church of Essex Junction. The pantry provides fresh fruits and vegetables as well as canned goods and household supplies to an average of 58 families once each month. Between five and nine of those families are from Williston.

“We’re helping people be able to eat a little more healthy foods and we’re making sure that children can be fed,” said the pantry’s co-director, Mary Richer, “so that (parents) don’t have to make choices.”

Adele Quiet, one of five volunteers who run a food pantry at the Miscellany Mart in Richmond, said that hunger is hidden.

“We think the elderly will not come and ask for help,” Quiet said as an example. “We generally get people like workers who have lost their job suddenly and are running short on food.”

The Richmond food shelf provides a three-day supply once a month for three months, said Quiet, but that is about to change.

“We are expecting heavier use this winter because of the economic problems that people are having with fuel, heat and so forth,” she said.

Barnett noted several reasons why prevalence of local hunger is not well-understood.

“I think that people don’t want to believe it,” Barnett said, “because it doesn’t feel right with their community.” Nor do people understand the dynamics of poverty, she added.

“They look and they say ‘Okay, you have food stamps, so why do you need to use the food shelf?’” said Barnett. “Or ‘You’re working, so why do you need to use the food shelf?’” she said, quoting others. The lack of jobs in Vermont paying a livable wage, said Barnett, means that many working people must use food shelf or state services in order to meet the gap.

Dostis said that while it is important that people are generous for holidays like Thanksgiving, “the rest of the year is important, too. We need to make sure kids get meals every day, not just during the holidays.”

For more information or to donate to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, call 658-7939; for The Heavenly Food Pantry, call 878-5745; for the Richmond food pantry, call 434-2421.

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