May 28, 2020

Maple Tree Place Green renovation launched

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

Officials, artists, and about 30 members of the public gathered last Wednesday in Maple Tree Place to launch the renovation of the 53,000 square foot green in the middle of the retail and office complex.

On a stage in the green, surrounded by orange construction fencing, various public figures offered remarks in honor of the commencement of this project. Behind the fencing were mounds of dirt and holes in the ground, the beginnings of the two-phase renovation project.

The first phase, targeted for a November 2007 completion, includes the creation of two diagonal walkways that intersect at a central square (which will have park benches and a mounting place for a Christmas tree), the installation of new lighting and flagpoles, and the foundation for a band shell. The second phase, which will feature the construction of the band shell as well as various landscaping measures, aims to be done in time for next summer’s Groovin’ on the Green outdoor concert series.

The design was submitted by Judy Goodyear and Williston resident Mary Jo Childs, who won the 2006 Maple Tree Place-sponsored landscape design contest.

“Last February, we saw footprints of people who had cut across the green,” Goodyear said. “This inspired us to incorporate paths into our design. But since the green isn’t quite square, we needed a central square to create better angles. We worked night and day for three weeks to address the many questions of this project, and it paid off. It was a real collaborative effort, both beautiful and utilitarian – the result of two different ways of looking at design.”

By the time it is finished, the process of revamping the green will have taken more than two years. Since the design was approved in February 2006, the company had to draw up a budget and gain various zoning approvals.

“We had some design issues with the gazebo that required tweaking,” said Niall Byrne, senior vice president of Inland Western Retail Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc., the owner of Maple Tree Place. “The project is really a transformation of the green, so it’s a natural process that requires extra time. But we’re excited. I think it’s a great place, and every time I come up here, I get a strong sense of community, which is the way it’s meant to be.”

Last week’s celebration was introduced by a tune from Don “The Junkman” Knaack, a Vermont musician who has appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.” Knaack plays percussion music on junk and recycled materials.

“He’s making beautiful music out of throwaway junk,” said Byrne. “And I think that makes the point here. We’re thrilled to have this begin.”

Officials had high hopes for the green, which they said they hoped would serve as a gathering place and an economic stimulator.

“Part of our job is to position Vermont as the best place to work and play,” said Tom Torti, President of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We talk most about forming a sense of place. Surrounded by beautiful brick, in this quiet, contemplative place, this green will help to create that unique sense of ‘where you are.’ And it will spur economic development, which we all need.”

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire also weighed in at the celebration.

“This will serve as a meeting place for the community, and the benefits will be seen by the businesses of Maple Tree Place as well,” McGuire said.

The speakers then gathered beside the stage as they each directed a ceremonial shovelful of dirt onto the base of a maple tree. The green will have several unique features that capture the developers’ environmentally minded attitude as well as the community focus. In the southwest corner, diagonally opposite from the band shell, there will be a place where it will be possible to purchase and install a memorial brick for a loved one.

In addition, Martin Smith’s creation, Obelisk Earth, will stand in the green. The piece, which is made out of computer keyboards, e-waste computer parts, and fast food children’s toys, is Smith’s attempt to remind of the dangers of technological waste.

“This whole thing is made out of oil, and promotional snippets pretending to be toys,” Smith said. “Technology has a dual role – it can help us, but in the process it produces waste materials, some of them toxic. This piece highlights the waste produced by technology, as well as puts the Earth back on a pedestal where it should be.”

[Read more…]

New Pastor Finds Her Mission at Williston Federated Church

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

Joan O’Gorman sits cross-legged, surrounded by engrossed children as she tells a story about the first apple tree. She punctuates the narrative with silly expressions, wide-eyed enthusiasm, and at all points wears a big smile on her face. The kids nod their comprehension as she concludes, “Just like the apple tree, God gave each of us things that make us unique.”

Something unique about O’Gorman: not only is she the first female pastor of Williston Federated Church, she is one of the first female pastors in Williston.

“I didn’t know it till I got here,” she recalls with a laugh. “It felt daunting at first, and humbling. I know it’s a challenge – especially for people who have never had a female pastor before. But I’ve been fortunate because most of the people I’ve ministered to have had a very positive previous experience with a woman pastor, or a woman as an associate pastor, or Christian educator. So I’m very blessed by the women who have gone ahead of me over the years. And that’s part of what I try to do as well, for the women who will surely come after me.”

“We’re thrilled with Joan,” said church member Charlie Magill. “And not just because she’s a woman, but because of the kind of woman she is.”

In O’Gorman’s pastoral study, on a packed bookshelf, sit two unusual items. The first is a wind-up nun that spits fire, a joke stemming from her former days as a student in Catholic school. The second is a model of a yellow taxi.

“A lot of people don’t know that I was a cab driver in New York City,” O’Gorman said. “That’s how I put myself through college. Being a minister is a lot like driving a taxi cab, in that you’re taking people to a place they’ve asked to go, but you may not be taking them in the same direction that they think is the best way. You have to earn their trust. And once you do, for some reason when people get into that backseat, they want to tell their story. And I absolutely love stories.”

O’Gorman preaches with intelligence, wit, and compassion. This is only her third week at Williston Federated Church, and she communicates comfortably with the congregation of more than 100, often succeeding at calling on individuals by name.

“I love her,” said Ashley Dubois, an Autism Interventionist for the South Burlington school district, and one of the senior high youth group leaders. “She brings us an opportunity to grow in places where we are ready to grow. She has been very welcoming to the youth and excited about what we’re doing. And the youth are excited to have the connection with her as well.”

At 58, O’Gorman has been a pastor for 27 years, beginning in Bangor, Maine. She and her husband, Gary, a lay preacher, have four children. Most recently, she served for 17 years as the pastor of East Arlington Federated Church in Arlington, Vt.

“I was attracted by the dynamics of this church,” said O’Gorman of her move to Williston. “They’re welcoming, mission-oriented, and really reaching out to families and children.”

In a region in which the attendance in mainline Christian churches is declining, the church remains unconcerned, focusing more on service than on their own expansion. This past May, members of the church went down to Van Cleve, Miss., to help rebuild in communities that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

“I cannot imagine a life apart from community, or apart from serving,” O’Gorman admitted. “I just don’t think Christianity is a ‘me religion’ – it’s a ‘we religion.’ Growing our church doesn’t just mean growing this particular congregation. We’re already forming partnerships with churches down in Van Cleve. We’re hoping to grow this church by helping the folks down there rebuild their lives. God didn’t call us to count his sheep, but to feed them. The question is not ‘how big is our church?’ but ‘how great is our mission?’”

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Gymnast achieves another milestone

Laura Reeves named sportswoman of the year

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston resident Laura Reeves has long been more than a little advanced for her age.

At 11, she was ranked a level 9 gymnast, just a step below those who compete on the national team. The next-youngest Vermonter holding that rank at the time was 16 years old.

Laura started taking college classes when she was 12. Now, two years later, she is helping with coaching and bookkeeping at the gymnastic center co-owned by her parents.

So it is perhaps no surprise that she was recently named Sportswoman of the Year by USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body. The award covers Region 6 of the organization, which includes all six New England states as well as New York. It recognizes academic achievements and community service as well as gymnastic skills.

“I’m just really honored to receive it,” Laura said.

Erika Reeves said such low-key statements are typical for her modest daughter. She said Laura has taken on adult-size responsibilities, helping run their business, Hruska Gymnastics Academy in Winooski, while she studies her schoolwork and practices gymnastics.

“It’s not just me but everyone she meets who thinks my daughter is just a remarkable human being,” she said of Laura, one of six children she has with her husband, Tom.

Laura said she is at the gymnastics center five or six days a week, practicing for hours most days and studying through a home-school program.

Laura is using a ninth- and 10th-grade curriculum, her mom said, and is particularly advanced in math. Two years ago, she passed an admission test and enrolled in classes at the Community College of Vermont. She now has completed four courses.

Her classmates were a little surprised when they learned her age. “It was fun,” Laura said. “People really didn’t realize I was so young. A few people I met figured I was a high school student just taking classes.”

At about 5-feet-4 and with an unusually mature demeanor, Laura could indeed pass for an older student. Over the past three years, she has grown considerably, her mom said. That growth spurt has made it more difficult to perform some gymnastic skills, but Erika Reeves figures her daughter will adapt.

Asked if she wants to compete at the elite level, Laura seemed ambivalent. She said she plans to continue competing, but her ultimate goal is to be a gymnastics coach. Her own coach is Stefan Hruska, who is a partner in the gymnastic center with the Reeves.

Erika Reeves acknowledged that to compete on the national stage her daughter would have to train with an elite, out-of-state gymnastics program. She said doing that would have been too great a disruption for Laura and the entire family.

“We always wanted her to have a normal childhood,” she said.

[Read more…]

Farmer seeks small subdivision

Eight-lot project proposed in rural area

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Patrice Clark wants to keep her 172-year-old farm operating for another generation. She hopes developing a piece of the land will make that happen.

Clark, co-owner of River Hill Farm, recently filed plans for a subdivision containing eight lots on 21 acres, a small fraction of the farm’s total acreage.

Clark said when she and her husband Wright divorced, he did not want to continue farming. Clark bought his share of the farm, taking out a short-term mortgage to finance the transaction. Her ex-husband’s sister also owns a share of the farm.

She said the subdivision will allow her to pay off the debt and fund renovations to farm buildings. The idea is to eventually pass the farm down to her 25-year-old daughter, Cameron.

“I only have so many options available to me,” Clark said. “Our desire to keep farming is a lot bigger than my ex-husband’s. If we can’t raise capital and sell houses, we’ll wind up having to sell it anyhow.” She said the cash infusion would also fund renovations at the farm.

The farm has been in the Clark family since 1835. It comprises 579 acres of rolling landscape along Governor Chittenden Road, which runs off U.S. 2 near French Hill.

The farm is particularly scenic, with a mixture of hills and pastures near the banks of the Winooski River. Grazing horses dot the landscape, which is framed by the Green Mountains.

“It’s a beautiful spot for sure,” Clark said. “You are close by things, but removed from all the madness at Taft Corners.”

Williston planners say the land is located in the most environmentally important area in town. It contains wildlife habitat and river frontage.

“It’s probably the best single piece of land in the entire town from a conservation point of view,” said Town Planner Lee Nellis. Because of that, he said, the proposed subdivision’s significance “is way beyond the number of units being proposed.”

The farm has 135 cows, about half of which are milked, Clark said. She grows hay for feed as well as some corn. The farm also has a horse stable and sells firewood.

The proposed subdivision would have eight lots ranging in size from 1.9 acres to 3.7 acres on the east side of Governor Chittenden Road, according to the application filed at Town Hall. Plans call for a ninth lot containing 127 acres that will remain undeveloped. The lots would be served by individual or shared driveways running off the main road.

“In all, over 85 percent of the parcel will be unchanged …,” the application states. “This will allow the existing agricultural uses of the property, primarily as a riding stable, to continue unabated, while still allowing the owner to develop.”

Clark said she is unsure if she will use a developer or sell the lots herself. She said several people previously expressed an interest in building homes on the land. She said it’s too early to determine home prices.

The proposal must receive a subdivision permit from the town of Williston before anything can be built. Hearings before the Conservation Commission and the Development Review Board have yet to be scheduled.

Subdividing the land is the only viable way to keep the farm operating, Clark said. Even if she sold all the land, Clark said no buyer is likely to continue farming it.

Developing a portion of the farm is the best way to ensure her daughter gets to be the eighth generation of Clarks to work the land, she said.

“We love it here,” she said. “It’s my daughter’s heritage, so this gives us an opportunity to continue.”

[Read more…]

Town changes date of establishment on signs

By Greg Duggan
Observer Staff

Williston will soon age 18 years.

At least, it will appear to do so as the Department of Public Works changes the date of the town’s charter on welcoming signs at town borders. The signs give the founding date of Williston as 1781, but the town was actually established in 1763. The mistake has slipped past residents and town officials since the installation of the signs more than 10 years ago.

On Tuesday, DPW employees visited the four affected signs to scrape off the vinyl stickers marking the date. DPW worker Truman Isham said it could take at least two weeks to have new numbers ordered and made.

Town Clerk and Treasurer Deb Beckett first noticed the mistake almost a month ago on sweatshirts being sold by Families as Partners to raise money for the school system. She soon traced the source back to the signs.

“We wanted to put the date the town was chartered on the sweatshirts,” said Bethe Ogle, a Families as Partners parent who helped print the shirts. “I did research on the town Web site, and saw 1763. Driving into Williston from all three points, the signs say 1781. I thought if the signs say 1781, that must be what it is. When Deb Beckett came to the farmers market, and saw 1781, she said, ‘That doesn’t look right.’”

The Williston Business and Professional Association, a now-defunct group, installed the signs, Beckett said. Neither Beckett nor DPW Director Neil Boyden remembered the exact date of the installation, but put the timeframe at a minimum of 10 to 15 years ago. Beckett, who belonged to the association, could not recall why the date 1781 appeared on the signs.

“I went through the town records, and nothing even big was happening in 1781,” Beckett said.

Though Beckett had heard that Richmond may have been established in 1781, Richmond Town Clerk Linda Parent put the charter date at 1794.

Another former member of the Business and Professional Association named by Beckett, who now lives in Essex Junction, did not return phone calls by press deadline.

Families as Partners had only printed a handful of shirts to use as samples before Beckett caught the error. Ogle said the new shirts have the correct date, as well as the tag line “Old town charm, new town spirit.”

The sweatshirts have a faded look. Ogle said Families as Partners wanted a way to raise money for the schools without asking parents to organize another fundraiser, and decided that sweatshirts could go to everyone from grandparents to tourists.

The sweatshirts will be available at the next two farmers markets, and Ogle expects the schools to send home order forms with students.

[Read more…]

CVU board gets a lesson on

By Rachel Gill
Observer correspondent

On Sept. 5, Champlain Valley Union High School Board members had a lesson on “Life.”

Presented by Jim Clapp and Helen MacAndrews, two of the three staff members who run the CVU Life Program, the Life Program is a multi-year, credit-based (no grades) program to teach students basic skills through individualized or small group instruction.

“Often we see students despondent about high school because they have had failure and have never had an opportunity to be successful,” Clapp said. “Coming into our program they feel that it’s a doable process, they have advocates, a support system, and they know they will graduate because that’s a tradition.”

According to Clapp, the purpose of the presentation was to provide the board with a history of the program, where it is today, and a glimpse of the program’s future.

During the 2006-2007 school year, the program served 25 students, 12 of whom graduated. Currently, students are required to complete 25 assignments per week that are facilitated by two licensed teachers and one assistant.

During the presentation, Clapp and MacAndrews also brought portfolios of 2007 Life Program graduates, one of which belonged to a student whose parents met in the Life Program in the 1970s when the program started.

“We have some multigenerational successes in this program,” Clapp said. “I think there is an expectation of success once they are in the program.”


Through creating individual weekly contracts that list assignments and class activities, students earn weekly credit towards accumulating the credits they need to graduate from CVU.

“We help them to see that graduation is a possibility,” MacAndrews said. “Students are not forced into the program, and they know it’s a privilege to be in the program. We have a three strikes and you are out policy that works to maintain a positive classroom environment.”

MacAndrews said on average three students a year leave the program.

According to MacAndrews, students learn about the program through friends, house directors, teachers, or advisors. A meeting is scheduled to discuss the program, students fill out an application, get parent permission, and two letters of recommendation. Clapp and MacAndrews and other CVU staff meet to look over the list of applicants to determine which students to accept.


The Life Program is the oldest alternative high school program in the state. During the program’s first few years, it was a male-only program. After years of operating two separate programs, they were combined and moved into the same location at by the Carpenter Carse Library in Hinesburg.

When Clapp started working at CVU 11 years ago, he was a student teacher tutoring young people who had been kicked out of school. Eventually, he started transitioning them into the Life Program and at first he said he didn’t know what to expect.

“On the first day, I remember walking in and having students run up to me and say, ‘read this poem I wrote’ and they were just so excited that I knew it was a program I wanted to be part of,” Clapp said. “We have an open door policy for families and board members and any interested community members to come and experience the atmosphere.”

MacAndrews, who started working in the program four years ago, said one of the program’s strengths is the development of personal relationships.

“We really get to know our students and their families, they really come to trust us,” she said. “We also help them work out non-academic stuff as well and that helps them sit down and do their school work. We want to support them but also make sure they are making progress towards their diploma.”

Providing that support is something CVU board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said the board appreciates.

“I suspect you must really get involved in these students’ lives and that takes a lot of heart and we really appreciate you both putting yourselves out there for these students,” Jensen said.


At the meeting, the board also approved its 2007-2008 work plan, and Jensen discussed board recruitment by encouraging members to start looking for replacements for those not running for the board next year. Sarita Austin of Williston announced she will not be running once her term expires in 2008.

Meg Hart-Smith, CVU board member and member of the facilities committee, provided an update on the CVU auditorium project.

The biggest setback to the project was the Legislature’s passing a moratorium on state construction aid. Previously, the state would contribute 30 percent to approved school construction projects. The moratorium has an exception for health and safety issues, for which the auditorium project may qualify.

Despite this setback, Hart-Smith said the Facilities Committee is continuing to move forward. According to her update, Fundraising Committee members will be speaking with prospective donors and community members to obtain their thoughts on the project. Hart-Smith also said she and Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Executive Officer Bob Mason are putting together a rationale packet for the CSSU community to explain the project. McMannon has scheduled a meeting with the Program Council to get feedback on private fundraising, donor recognition, and the potential impact on the school.

“I feel this is a good way to go in a very uncertain landscape,” Hart-Smith said. “Surveying with the community is a realistic way to see if people think we could fundraise a significant portion of this project’s cost and if it happens that we can, we want to be ready to jump.”

The next board meeting is Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in CVU Room 102.

[Read more…]

Good weather grows excellent corn crop

Farmers report rising yields for feed and food

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Mary Whitcomb walks between the towering stalks of her corn maze, proudly showing off their impressive height – 13 feet – and girth – thicker than saplings.

Whitcomb, of North Williston Cattle Co., and other local farmers are enjoying a bumper crop of corn this year, especially when compared to last year’s weather-stunted harvest.

Williston and Richmond farmers say this year’s crop will produce considerably more corn and feed, with estimated increases in yield ranging from 30-50 percent.

“Last year was a disaster,” said Dave Conant of Conant’s Riverside Farm, which straddles the Williston-Richmond town line along U.S. 2. “This year has been just about exactly the opposite.”

Sunny, warm weather with just enough rain to keep soil damp provided the perfect conditions for a superb corn crop, farmers say. They are growing taller, bushier plants that produce more ears of sweet, juicy corn or more feed for their cattle.

Lorenzo Whitcomb, Mary’s husband, said he expects this year’s crop to produce about 26-28 tons of feed. Last year’s crop – the Whitcombs grow only “cow corn” used exclusively for feed – produced roughly 18-20 tons.

Other farmers report similarly good corn crops. Conant figures his yield could be up 50 percent. He said it might be the best crop he’s seen in more than a decade.

Ashley Farr, co-owner of the Farr farm on Huntington Road in Richmond, suffered through flooded fields last year. This year, he thinks his corn yield will jump about 35 percent.

In addition to plenty of feed, North Williston Cattle Co. this year has produced a particularly good corn maze, which opens this weekend.

Mary Whitcomb said a corn variety named “Big Bubba” produced stalks so thick and high that they form virtual walls. Last year, she said, those walls were considerably smaller.

With much of the corn yet to be harvested, precise numbers for this year’s crop are not available. But Kelly Loftus, spokeswoman for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said preliminary reports indicate farmers are producing an “excellent” corn crop this year.

A total of 1,000 acres on about 200 farms are cultivated for corn in Vermont, Loftus said.

Corn is a key crop for farmers. In addition to selling ears through farm markets and grocery stores, farmers use chopped-up corn to feed cows and other livestock.

A good crop holds down the price of feed for farmers who don’t grow enough corn to nourish their livestock. A below-par crop drives up feed prices, which can hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

“If you don’t have corn to feed cows, then they won’t produce milk,” said Mary Whitcomb. “And milk prices are really good for farmers right now.”

Last year, weeks of wet weather in May and June led to Vermont being declared a primary natural disaster area by the federal government, making farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans. The state provided $8.9 million in emergency aid to farmers.

Flooding forced Riverside Farm to reseed dozens of acres of cornfields, at a cost of $100 an acre. Other farmers also saw their corn crops stunted by the unfavorable weather.

Farr said last year was rough for him, too, although “compared to folks in Addison and Franklin counties, we didn’t have it too bad.”

Last year, Vermont farmers produced a total of 96,000 pounds of corn. That was about average, Loftus said, although she acknowledged the data might not accurately reflect the travails of individual farmers.

“Last year was about average,” Loftus said. “We do expect it to be more this year.”

[Read more…]

Circ hearings scheduled

Observer staff report

A pair of meetings next month will give the public yet another chance to weigh in on the long-delayed Circumferential Highway.

Each session will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4. The first runs from 1-4 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. The second takes place from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at Williston Central School.

The meetings are designed to gather input on a draft Environmental Impact Statement released last month. The EIS considers 11 road-building alternatives.

“The hearings are an opportunity for the public to comment on the Circ-Williston Draft EIS,” said Neale Lunderville, secretary of the Agency of Transportation, in a news release. “We will record everyone’s comments and comments will be addressed in the final EIS.”

Public officials will be given the first opportunity to speak at each session, followed by citizens in the order they sign in. To give everyone a chance to speak, oral statements will be limited to 5 minutes. Written statements of any length can be submitted at the hearing and at anytime until Nov. 8.

Both facilities are ADA accessible. Interpreters for the hearing impaired will be provided. Anyone requiring special assistance can call Jim Purdy at 1-800-735-8999, ext. 7435 to discuss additional needs.

Written comments on the EIS can be submitted by mail or e-mail. Comments can be sent to: Mr. Kenneth R. Sikora, Environmental Program Manager, Federal Highway Administration Region 1, P.O. Box 568, Montpelier, Vt. 05601. Comments also can be sent via e-mail to or sent by fax to (802) 828-4424.

Written comments also can be sent by mail to Mr. Kenneth Robie, Project Manager, Vermont Agency of Transportation, One National Life Drive, Montpelier, Vt. 05633. Comments can be e-mailed to, or faxed to (802) 828-2437.

Comments also can be submitted through the project Web site at

As originally conceived more than 30 years ago, the Circ was a 16-mile highway running from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 127 in Colchester. The Essex Junction segment of the highway opened in 2003.

Legal disputes over the remaining segments held up construction until 2004, when ground was broken on the Williston stretch. But construction was halted soon after it began when a federal judge ruled the Circ could not proceed until a new EIS was completed.

Since then, numerous public hearings have been held and the list of options narrowed down from dozens of possibilities to the current alternatives, which can be grouped into three broad categories: a limited-access highway or a boulevard along the originally planned Circ route; widening Vermont Route 2A to three or four lanes through Williston and Essex, replacing some intersections with roundabouts; or constructing a hybrid that uses parts of each approach.

The draft EIS analyzes the impact of each road-building alternative, looking at each option’s effect on traffic, the environment and the economy.

Reading the study, however, poses a challenge for citizens who want to be well-informed. The EIS contains thousands of pages in eight thick binders and three oversize books of maps and traffic reports. An executive summary, which runs only a couple of dozen pages, provides an overview.

Copies of the study are available at public libraries, including Dorothy Alling Library on U.S. 2 in Williston Village. The study can also be downloaded at A free CD-ROM containing the study can be obtained by contacting Sikora and Robie at the above addresses.

[Read more…]

CCTA membership could be town

New Williston route considered by transit agency

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston could save money and increase its odds of getting a new bus route by joining the Chittenden County Transportation Authority, officials say.

Chris Cole, CCTA general manager, has corresponded with Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire over the past several months about the possibility of becoming a member of the transit authority. The exchange came after Selectboard members expressed an interest in the idea and asked McGuire to explore the pros and cons of joining.

In an August letter to McGuire, Cole concluded that the town could save about $17,000 a year if it joined CCTA. Williston pays part of the cost of the one CCTA route running through town but it is not represented on the agency’s governing board.

The savings would come primarily from reduced municipal expenses for service required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the federal law, communities that have fixed-route bus service must supplement it with transportation for people with disabilities. Williston now pays for that service with the help of grants. CCTA would pick up part of the tab if the town was a member.

Membership has benefits other than a relatively small savings on Williston’s annual bill for public transportation, which is about $188,000 in the current fiscal year. Members are eligible for bus shelters and benches. They also get to appoint two representatives to CCTA’s governing board, “which is important as the board deliberates where new services are located,” Cole wrote in his letter to McGuire.

New services could wind up being the biggest benefit to Williston. Cole said in an interview that CCTA has discussed adding a route that would run from Williston Village to downtown Burlington. He said CCTA considers the new route a top priority.

It’s unknown how much the route would cost. Tiffany Ward, CCTA’s marketing and public affairs manager, said the price tag could vary according to how many stops buses make and how often they run. Such specifics have yet to be determined.

Cole said Williston does not necessarily have to join to secure the new route – but it wouldn’t hurt, especially with other area towns seeking additional services.

While expressing caution about joining CCTA, McGuire said it may be the key to getting the new route.

“Let’s put it this way: it’s not going to happen if we don’t become a member,” he said.

Town officials have in the past resisted joining CCTA. The transit authority began the current route in 2000 with the help of state and federal grants but no funding from Williston. When the state did not budget money for the route two years later, the town refused to pick up the tab. The state later decided to fund the route after all.

The route, which starts in Essex Junction and makes several stops in Williston before terminating at the University Mall in South Burlington, has been popular. CCTA has recorded double-digit ridership increases in each of the past five years, Cole said. In the 12-month period ending June 30, CCTA tallied 72,528 riders on the Williston route.

Selectboard members in the past complained that most of those riders came from outside of Williston and claimed there was little demand among town residents for the service.

But when outside sources of funding dried up, the board in 2005 decided to help pay for the route after all. Williston’s payments for fixed-route service are based on the same formula used for CCTA members.

Cole said bus service benefits residents even in suburban areas like Williston with many two-car families.

“When there’s a bus route, you don’t have to worry about leaving work early to take the kids to soccer practice,” Cole said. “Your kids can take the bus.”

McGuire said he and two Selectboard members are scheduled to meet with Cole on Sept. 13 at CCTA offices in Burlington. They will learn more about the organization and perhaps get a tour of the facility.

With money already budgeted for the existing route in the 2007-08 fiscal year, McGuire said there is no rush to make a decision on membership.

Joining CCTA would be a big step for Williston, he said. Under the current arrangement, Williston could in any given year elect to discontinue funding for bus service. That may not be the case if the town becomes a CCTA member.

“You’re pretty well committed to funding it year after year,” McGuire said. “It’s a commitment that Williston has to consider very seriously.”

[Read more…]