Observer staff report
Williston was in the spotlight statewide and nationally on more than one occasion during 2006. Here are a few of the highlights.
When a Williston man was sentenced on Jan. 4 to a minimum of 60 days in prison after pleading guilty to repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl, the case raised national eyebrows. District Judge Edward Cashman handed down the sentence to Mark Hulett, 35, in order to secure sex offender treatment for him. Cashman said that the Vermont Department of Corrections put him in a “dilemma,” because its classification system allowed only high-risk sex offenders to be treated while incarcerated.
Local and state officials expressed anger at the decision, and the sentencing made national news headlines. Critics demanded Cashman’s resignation and decried the state’s sex offender laws.
Cashman resentenced Hulett to 3-10 years in prison three weeks later after the Corrections Department changed their policy and allowed sex offender treatment programs in prison for “lower-risk” sex offenders like Hulett.
Another man was also convicted and sentenced for assaulting the same girl. Derek Kimball, 34, of Hinesburg was sentenced this month to 12-50 years in prison.
It divided the community more than perhaps any other issue in 2006.
Two speakers from Outright Vermont, a gay youth organization, had been invited to speak to seventh and eighth graders at Williston Central School on March 23. They were to be the first speakers in a series on anti-harassment issues. At an informational meeting just prior to the event, a small group of parents pleaded for a community conversation before proceeding, though parents had been allowed to “opt-out” their children. In response to the emotional meeting, District Principal Walter Nardelli canceled the event.
Nardelli, in his first year as an administrator in Williston, came under fire. Letters to the editor and phone calls and e-mails from as far away as California criticized him for the decision.
In the weeks that followed, and at a special board meeting on April 3, the community had its conversation. The majority of those who spoke publicly pleaded that the Williston School Board support the event as originally scheduled. The Board agreed.
In an upstairs classroom on May 12, speakers Kate Jerman and Connor McFadden, the originally scheduled guests, spoke with students without incident. The remainder of the series was not pursued; administrators say bullying and harassment issues need to be integrated into daily curriculum.
Williston residents voted from cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Two election workers wore in-line skates and an air of joviality pervaded the day.
The special vote on June 6 – a sunny day with clear skies – authorized an additional $1.24 million for construction of a new police station and a new fire and rescue station. Voters had the choice of driving their cars through the abandoned fire station or of walking into a separate room to vote.
The approach drew national attention. Town Clerk Deb Beckett appeared on FOX news. Local CBS news reporter Darren Perron did a segment that aired on CNN national news.
The approach also drew dismay from some, like University of Vermont political science professor Frank Bryan, who said the fast-food approach demonstrated a loss of community and democracy. Some residents chided the town for contributing to greenhouse gases.
In the end, 19 percent of Williston voters turned out for the vote, five times more than the last special vote in 2002. And it was the traffic on U.S. 2, backed up from the corner of Oak Hill Rd. – a daily occurrence on workdays – that caused any backup at the drive-thru polls.
POLICE AND FIRE/RESCUE STATIONS
The construction of a new 23,000-square-foot fire and rescue station at the corner of Talcott Road and U.S. 2 began this summer. Demolition of the old fire station, adjacent to Town Hall, made room for a new 13,000-square-foot police station. Both projects are on schedule, according to Project Manager Tom Barden. The fire and rescue station is scheduled to open in May, the police station in June.
In 2004, voters approved $6.8 million for the project. Barden estimated construction costs had risen about 15 percent since the 2003 estimates on which the plans were made. Voters on June 6 approved (733-537) an additional $1.24 million to cover those rising costs.
Williston police officers say the project, which will quintuple their space, will improve officer safety and privacy for crime victims, among other improvements.
The Williston Fire Department, with a building twice its current size, will be able to house all of the town’s 16 fire and rescue vehicles; alternate storage areas were needed with the smaller old fire station.
Since May the fire department has been working out of a small building adjacent to the village green to allow for construction of the police department.
In August the Williston Neighborhood Coalition introduced itself. The group of residents from area neighborhoods announced their opposition to a regional landfill that has been in the works since 1992. That year Williston and other Chittenden County residents approved the construction of a landfill on Redmond Road, the current location of trash transfer facilities. Also since then the Chittenden Solid Waste District, the landfill’s planner, has been engaged in a legal battle for the land on which the landfill would be built.
In the last several months, members of the WNC have expressed their frustrations. They’ve said they were unaware of the potential landfill, adjacent to the planned location of the Circumferential Highway, when purchasing their homes. Some of these homes are within a quarter mile. Residents have expressed concerns about property values, health and the environment.
Solid waste district officials have said the planned landfill has much higher levels of environmental safeguards than Vermont’s current landfills. District officials also have said Chittenden County should take care of its trash locally, instead of shipping it off to Coventry and Moretown. A local, publicly owned landfill also would cost less, they’ve said.
It’s possible this topic could end up as one of Williston’s top stories for a few years to come. Waste district officials have said the landfill could open, at the earliest, in 2011.