July 20, 2019

Town OK

State: no promises to build anything

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Selectboard on Monday voted to support construction of two park-and-ride facilities in hopes that at least one will be built.

The town will send a letter to the state Agency of Transportation expressing formal support for the proposed commuter parking lots on Vermont 2A. One would be located north of Interstate 89 behind Northfield Savings Bank across from Maple Tree Place. The other would be just south of I-89.

The Selectboard in August conducted a straw poll indicating support for the pair of park-and-rides despite the fact that it had in the past opposed the location south of the interstate. The state, however, wanted a formal vote on the issue.

Andy Mikell cast the lone dissenting vote. He said after Monday’s meeting that the facility south of I-89 is the better location. He predicted few motorists would use the other site because vehicles coming off the interstate would first have to pass through several traffic lights.

But other board members have in the past opposed a park-and-ride south of the interstate amid concerns that it would create a traffic hazard near the bottom of a long hill.

With little discussion before the vote on Monday, the board apparently agreed with Town Manager Rick McGuire, who previously said that if the state pursues two park-and-rides, it might ensure at least one will be built.

The town has long lobbied for a park-and-ride to replace the one that closed more than 10 years ago. Thousands of people commute daily to Williston, a regional retail center, and Census figures show that most people who live here work elsewhere.

A park-and-ride could reduce the ever-increasing congestion around Taft Corners by promoting ride sharing and public transportation. The lot behind Northfield Savings Bank would contain roughly 50 spaces; the lot south of I-89, on the west side of Vermont 2A, would have 120 to 150 spaces.

The idea behind studying two facilities is to leave open the option of building either one or both, said Richard Tetreault, director of program development for the Agency of Transportation, in a letter to the town.

“The two projects could be studied, designed and constructed simultaneously, but independent of each other,” he wrote. “This could allow one site to move through the project development phase quicker than the other.”

But the state is not making any promises about when or even if either park-and-ride will be constructed.

“There is no guarantee both sites will make it to construction,” Tetreault wrote. “The project’s development phase will determine if both or possibly only one park-and-ride would be built.”

[Read more…]

Library unveils five-year plan

By Sky Barsch
Observer correspondent

The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston has developed a five-year plan, aiming to make the library a current, cultural community center with opportunities for lifelong learning.

The plan, written by a 14-member community board and staff, used survey feedback to guide the library for the next five fiscal years.

“We tried to focus on what were the needs, and how the library addressed those needs,” said library Director Marti Fiske.

The library collected surveys in May and June this year, with copies of the survey available at the library and on the library’s Web site. The library also sent surveys to patrons by e-mail. After much input, four service areas were identified for focus.

In the area of “current topics and titles,” the library wants to “help … fulfill the community’s ‘appetite for information about popular culture and social trends’ and its desire for recreational experiences,” according to the plan. The library will aim to stay current and alert patrons to these resources.

In the area of “cultural awareness,” the library will, through a variety of resources, help patrons understand their own cultural heritage and the cultural heritage of others.

The third service area is called “commons.” People enjoy having the library as a gathering place and a place to have public discourse about community issues.

Lastly, under “lifelong learning,” the library will assist patrons to continue to learn by helping them find materials within and out of the library.

What came out of the survey and study did not surprise Fiske, who said the community has an open relationship with the library.

“A lot of it we had heard before, as far as how we were doing. There are particular programs that are extremely popular, especially the children’s program,” Fiske said. “We didn’t hear anything we did not expect to hear. We have a very good relationship with our patronage.”

Plans are typically written every four years so they can be implemented on the fifth. Fiske said that the newly released plan is a few years late, because she wanted some time to get to know the community after she took on the role as director. The last plan was adopted in 2000 and expired in July 2005. Fiske began her tenure toward the end of 2005, and work began on the new plan in April of this year.

The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, which receives most of its $386,000 budget from Williston taxpayers, targeted Williston residents as the primary population for the focus of the plan.

Fiske said it will not take a considerable increase in funding or resources to implement the four goals.

“Most of the goals aren’t going to take much for funding. They’re things that we’re doing very well for the library. A lot of the changes have no expense or are very inexpensive. We should be able to handle them by our regular budget or with the help of the friends group,” Fiske said, referring to the Friends of the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, a fundraising and support group

Fiske said the library will measure success with a list of objective measurements, including improving numbers for circulation, doing more surveys to ensure the community’s needs are being met and to getting assessments from community members.

The final draft of the plan is now available for public comment. Copies are online at www.williston.lib.vt.us, or available in-house at the library’s main desk. The Trustees plan to vote on the adoption of this plan at their Jan. 14 meeting. The public is asked to submit their comments to Fiske in writing by Jan. 7.Comments may be sent to marti@williston.lib.vt.us or 21 Library Lane, Williston.

[Read more…]

Let the skating begin

Williston skate park opens to the public

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

After years of delays while money kept being funneled elsewhere, the town finally has a skate park of its own.

Installed behind Williston Central School about a month ago by David Wood, owner of Talent Skatepark in South Burlington, the park contains a quarter pipe, bank ramp, three ledges and a planter box.

“It’s hard and challenging. I just learned how to do this today,” Keenan Reinsborough, 7, said at the skate park earlier this week, demonstrating how to ride a scooter up, and then down, a quarter pipe. “I believe you’re supposed to go up and turn around.”

Reinsborough and his twin brother, Kai, of Richmond, were both riding scooters around the park on Monday afternoon. The boys’ mother, Jean Reinsborough, said the two go to school in Williston and have enjoyed using the park since it opened, even though they don’t skateboard.

Of the half dozen or so kids using the park on Monday, only one had brought a skateboard. And that youngster, Liam Reiner, 8, was riding a scooter. Reiner’s mother, Susan Reiner, said she used to take her son to parks in Burlington and Colchester.

“I’m really happy Williston has something accessible,” she said. “We just found out Talent put this in. It’s kind of a word of mouth thing. One kid told my son (about it).”

Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said the park cost about $5,000, half of which came from a state grant the town received in 2003. But with other necessary parks improvements continually cropping up, the town couldn’t find the matching funds until this year.

“We’ve been overextended in that (budget) item in parks improvement, due to vandalism or whatever,” Finnegan said. “It’s not a big budget. We tend to be up against the line. This year we had the money.”

Other money, Finnegan said, went towards reengineering the baseball field behind Williston Central School.

“Kevin Finnegan and I had been discussing (the park) for several years. Finding a place to put it, space in the budget to pay for it. It finally all came to be this fall,” Wood explained.

Finnegan said the park was a response to requests from kids, but also aims to benefit the town as well.

“From a practical standpoint, we saw a lot of abuse of our equipment, like benches, with kids dragging them out and railing on them,” Finnegan said. “This is a way to keep their enthusiasm focused in an appropriate way.”

Susan Reiner said kids of all ages have been using the park together. At this point, guidelines are lax. Asked if rules will govern use between skateboards and scooters, Finnegan said, “I don’t think we’ve gotten that far. It’s open to kids. If we start seeing conflict, we’ll look at making a policy.”

Yet for all the park’s novelty, residents will need to enjoy it in the immediate future, before temperatures drop below freezing and the town converts it to another type of skate park – an ice skating rink.

“Within the next couple of weeks we’ll have the highway department come lift (the equipment pieces) off and store it behind the field house. Once the weather is cooperative, we’re freezing,” Finnegan said. “We’ll shoot to have the ice open for winter break for the kids.”

[Read more…]

Hunger hits Williston

By Sky Barsch
Observer correspondent

Homelessness and hunger continue to affect the region, with hunger and decreasing resources posing a larger problem than homelessness in Williston. People are literally and increasingly choosing between eating and heating their homes, said Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf Director Rob Meehan.

A national effort to bring attention to the issue, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, is under way until Nov. 17. Local organizations, such as the Committee on Temporary Shelter, or COTS, and the Hinesburg Food Shelf, are hopeful that the attention brings resources in the way of donations and volunteers. Champlain College and the University of Vermont are holding public demonstrations to bring awareness to homelessness and collecting donations to help.

“We’re definitely impacted during the holiday season,” said Meehan, whose organization serves 2,000 Chittenden County families each month. “There’s such a rising need. Heating costs are going up, gas prices are insane. Food prices are increasing. People living below the poverty line need our services to offset their heating costs.”

The Vermont Foodbank has reported that it is struggling to provide enough food, affecting its 270 members. The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf is the largest member, Meehan said.

Meehan predicts this will be a particularly bad year. Even though many social programs are in place for those in need, low wages, lost manufacturing jobs and increasing costs mean more people will have a harder time putting food on their tables.

“We will see whether this will be a particularly bad year. People are going to get hit hard once the cold weather comes. Home heating costs have really skyrocketed – really big increases around 17 percent. It’s pretty common sense stuff, when you’re faced with heating and eating, it’s a pretty unfortunate place to be.”

Rita Markley, executive director of COTS, said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of homeless families in the past five years.

“What’s new for Chittenden County and many communities is many of these families have working parents. So it may very well be someone who serves you coffee at a restaurant in Williston finds themselves at the end of the day turning to a shelter,” Markley said. “All expenses have gone up, and wages have remained relatively flat. Many people are cobbling together two or three retail jobs, working weekends and nights, which if you’re a parent with small children, is enormously difficult.”

Markley said the face of homelessness is changing. It is often working parents with children who are living in emergency shelters.

“We’ve served homeless families from every community in Chittenden County this year. The number of single adults has gone down, but the number of families has gone up,” Markley said, using the following figures to illustrate her point: in 2005, the number of households who needed emergency shelter in Chittenden County was 365; the number last year was 788. Those are families who are staying in shelters and no-frills motels and trying to get to work and school.

Hunger, more than homelessness, affects Williston residents, said Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig.

“As far as we know, we don’t see homeless people in Williston. Nothing’s been reported,” Macaig said, when asked about the subject. “But hunger, we do suspect, through the church organizations and different schools, there are people who are short of food supplies.”

Organizations that serve people experiencing hunger, Macaig said, are two churches – Williston Federated Church and The Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic church. Each has a food shelf that serves anyone in the community, not just parishioners.

Town tax dollars support social organizations that serve those needs as well, he said.

The Hinesburg Food Shelf, serving 160 different area families in a year and 60 families per month, is another pantry that relies on the Vermont Foodbank. And it is feeling the pinch.

“It is hard to place an order,” said Doug Gunnerson, who runs the Hinesburg Food Shelf. “The selection is limited making it necessary to reorder later in the month. Even so, some items are just not available. The Foodbank is our key supplier. We end up cutting back on Foodbank orders and increase our purchases in local stores at a much higher cost. We must cut back to stay within our limited funds.”

[Read more…]

Heating bills on the rise

Efforts under way to cut costs

By Sky Barsch
Observer correspondent

When it comes to heating prices, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news first: if oil prices continue on their upward trend, fuel oil could cost $3 per gallon this season. The price of natural gas, propane and electricity are predicted to rise sharply as well, according to a recent report from The Associated Press, leaving many to struggle to heat their homes.

The good news? A bill being introduced by Rep. Peter Welch aims to toughen up oversight on the so-called dark markets, where oil futures are being traded and the cost is spiraling upward. The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association is lobbying for the bill’s passage.

Matt Cota, executive director of the Fuel Dealers Association, said the general trend in heating costs is upward. But a few factors could reverse that trend, he said. A warm winter could slow down demand. Oil prices could reach $100 a barrel, reaching a peak price, and prices will begin to fall. Proposed legislation could put more oversight on trading oil commodities, closing the so-called Enron loop that eased regulation, Cota said.

Cota said his organization and others that look out for the interests of small fuel dealers have been trying to get the law changed for five years. Only since the Democrats have had control of the house has the matter been taken seriously, he said.

Susan Lamb, finance director for the town of Williston said some people in town struggle to pay their heating bills. One extended illness or job loss and anyone could have trouble paying their bills.

“Some people don’t have any savings in place to fall back on,” Lamb said.

Williston has a small amount of money that is available as a last resort for very dire circumstances, she said. The town supports various social programs through tax dollars.

Area residents have access to some assistance programs to pay for heat. The following is a list of some of those resources:

The Patch Chit Program: A statewide resource for those in dire need of heating assistance, this Vermont Fuel Dealers Association-run program creates and places pledges, or “chits,” usually in 100-gallon fuel increments, in a pool for the use of the Department of Social Welfare’s Emergency Fuel Program, and other similarly concerned programs. More info is online at www.vermontfuel.com/Vermont_Fuel_Dealers_Association/Fuel_Assistance.html.

Vermont Fuel Assistance Program: This year, Vermont will receive $2.5 million through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program dollars. To apply for Fuel Assistance one must fill out a Fuel Assistance application each and every year. More info is available by calling 800-479-6151 or 241-1165, or going online to www.dsw.state.vt.us/Programs_Pages/Fuel/fuel.shtml.

Crisis Fuel Program: For those in a heating crisis — no fuel or very close to running out of fuel — or for those who have received a disconnection notice from their electric company and need electricity to run a heating system, help may be available by going to the local Community Action Agency for help through the Crisis Fuel Program. In Chittenden County, contact Chittenden Community Action, 191 North St., Burlington 05401 or by phone at 863-6248 or 800-287-7971. After hours, nights, weekends and holidays, call 800-287-0589.

Town of Williston: The town has a very limited supply of emergency funds available to those who have exhausted all of the other social welfare programs. For more info call Susan Lamb, finance director, 878-0919.

Citizens Energy Corp. Oil Heat Program: offers discounted heating oil prices for those who qualify. More info online at www.citizensenergy.com.

[Read more…]

Geographic series sifts through the soils of Williston

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

A seminar that some consider essential to Williston’s future culminated on Saturday when educators, town officials and residents went for a walk in Talcott Forest, a University of Vermont property, and Mud Pond, a piece of the town’s conservation land.

Led by University of Vermont graduate student Jesse Fleisher, the walkers were taking part in the Williston Geographic series.

“Williston is an interesting location for lots of different reasons,” said Carrie Deegan, the town’s environmental planner. “Williston was coastal real estate many millions of years ago. Being on the edge of where the Champlain Sea used to be, we have different soils, different vegetation, different topography. The big point and the big picture is that, by studying this, we can consider what areas are good for human usage based on this history.”

Saturday’s forest walk came on the heels of a Nov. 13 seminar called “Soil, Water & Wildlife: The Landscape Ecology and Fauna of Williston.” With snow on the ground and a bite in the air, 10 people gathered for the early morning hike.

“On this cold, but pretty, morning, we are going to be looking at soils and examining how they relate to the vegetation and the landscape around them,” explained Fleisher. “We’ll discuss the hydrology of the wetlands, the patterns of certain wildlife, and talk about how all these things are connected.”

Fleisher passed around a document called “Place-Based Landscape Analysis of Talcott Forest,” which he co-authored in May. His work with Williston is his graduate study project, a program called Place-Based Landscape Analysis & Community Education, or PLACE. The two-semester course is taught by Walter Poleman, a professor at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

According to the Williston Conservation Commission’s Web site, in the first semester of PLACE, students gathered, created and organized natural and cultural history information into the layers of a geographic information system. Also known as GIS, the systems are used to store and analyze geographic features.

In the second semester, the students conducted presentations and teacher trainings on their findings, hoping to help the town understand the relationship between its people, the local landscape and natural history.

PLACE has now worked with 17 towns throughout Vermont, Deegan said.

A community endeavor

Just like the geological layers beneath the feet of Williston residents, there are many layers to helping a town utilize its geological knowledge. For Williston, it’s been a collaborative effort between the Conservation Commission, historical society, University of Vermont and Shelburne Farms.

The graduate class has worked with the town to do landscape and cultural analysis. Shelburne Farms is taking the information and developing a curriculum that can be brought into the school system.

“This assessment of the Williston community was done in a manner we call ‘bedrock to birds’ – looking at geology, how geology forms soil, how soil forms vegetation, how vegetation supports wildlife, all the way up to human culture,” explained Shelburne Farms Educator and Community Involvement Coordinator Erica Curry. “The PLACE program provides the forum, but the community provides the action.

“We’re trying to make connections with local teachers, because this information is given to a town to take ownership of it. We’re trying to connect these stories to local experts, to help them utilize their place in their teaching. Middle and high school students will be doing publicity for the visioning meeting in the spring. There are all these layers being utilized in bringing people in to work on this as a whole, and utilize this information however they’re excited to do so.”

The Williston Geographic Series is leading up to a community visioning event on April 4 and 5, 2008.

“It will be an opportunity for town residents to all gather in one spot and, in a productive way, explore the town issues like schools, housing, land conservation, and to work out where the town will go in the future,” Deegan explained. “We are planning to develop action committees out of the discussion, with a focus on specific projects that can be most feasibly addressed.”

The event will be facilitated by Delia Clark, co-founder and project director for Antioch New England Institute, a consulting and community outreach department of Antioch University New England. Clark has 24 years of experience in environmental education in New England and abroad, and received the 1994 New England Environmental Education Alliance Award for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Education.

Deegan considers the series an important and exciting success.

“I’ve done many events in Williston that haven’t been as well-attended,” she laughed. “We have had between 30 and 70 (people) at each of the seminars, and pretty well-attended walks with eight to 15, which is a good, manageable size for a walk. And we’ve had lots of good feedback. It’s always good to look at the past and see where you’ve been. The broader perspective we’ve been given is a pretty comprehensive look at the town as a whole, covering geology, glacial history, human history, soils, hydrology, wildlife, puts everything in context, and will help with town visioning.”


[Read more…]

Firefighters to vote on unionization

Four full-timers eligible to join

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston firefighters will vote on joining a union next week. Yet there seems to be little of the rancor that often accompanies labor organizing efforts.

The four full-time firefighters eligible to join the union are apparently happy with their pay and benefits. They just want to belong to an organization that heightens their sense of brotherhood with other firefighters, said Capt. Tim Gerry.

“Look around,” he said, motioning toward the sparkling equipment in the town’s new multi-million dollar fire station. “We have great working conditions. We’re not upset about anything.”

Municipal managers said they anticipated the move toward unionization when the firefighters were hired a little more than a year ago.

“It’s really not unexpected,” said Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton. “I think every career firefighter position in the state has been unionized.”

When they were hired, town officials set compensation at levels comparable to unionized firefighters in nearby towns, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

“I think we’re already paying them very competitive wages and benefits,” he said.

Morton said the already substantial wages and benefits will ensure a union contract won’t strain the Fire Department’s budget.

Hourly pay for the four firefighters ranges from $17.72 to $21.04, said Susan Lamb, the town’s finance director.

The four full-time firefighters comprise only a fraction of the Williston Fire Department’s staff. There are also 47 “volunteer” firefighters who work on an on-call basis. They are paid an average of $10.30 an hour, Lamb said.

In addition to Gerry, the other three full-time firefighters who will vote on unionization are Keith Baker, Ryan Prouty and Sean Soper.

They were all hired in August 2006, the culmination of years of lobbying by Morton to have a group of full-time firefighters that can cover daytime hours when on-call staffers are often unavailable. Each of the full-timers is also trained as an emergency medical technician.

The union vote, which will be held Wednesday, Nov. 28, appears to be a formality. All four men have signed union cards, said Matthew Vinci, Vermont representative for the International Association of Fire Fighters. Gerry said he and the other full-time firefighters decided together that they wanted to join the union.

In addition to a sense of belonging, Gerry said the union also offers training beyond what is available through the town. He acknowledged that employees who unionize are typically unhappy with their pay, benefits or working conditions but emphasized that was not the case here.

“The nice part is we are extremely happy employees of the town,” he said. “We have no issue from the standpoint of feeling shortchanged.”

Despite upbeat comments on both sides, town officials took an action that signaled they would prefer the firefighters did not unionize. Vinci said the town could have accepted the signed cards as proof the employees wanted to join the union. Instead, the town insisted on an election.

McGuire initially said he “had no way of knowing” who signed cards. But when pressed he admitted the town sought an election in case employees had second thoughts.

“Having an election will give employees an opportunity to think about whether or not they want a formal arrangement,” he said. “It gives them a chance to vote against it even if they signed a card.”

Vinci said that as far as he knows, every full-time professional firefighter in the state belongs to a union. He said the International Association of Fire Fighters represents all but three of the 15 fire departments in Vermont that have full-time firefighters, with other unions covering the remaining departments.

Only full-time professional firefighters who have been on the job for at least a year are eligible to join the union, Vinci said.

If the vote is affirmative, the firefighters would join Williston police officers as the town’s only unionized employees. The majority of town workers are not unionized.

The situation theoretically could create friction if union contracts diverge from pay and benefits offered to other employees. But McGuire said he isn’t worried about having both unionized and non-union employees on the staff, noting that other towns have similar arrangements.

McGuire also said he is not concerned that the firefighters’ organizing efforts will prompt other employees to demand union representation. He noted that Williston periodically uses a consultant to ensure pay and benefits compare favorable to other towns.

“I think the firefighters are an unusual situation,” he said. “We treat all employees fairly, and will continue to do so.”

[Read more…]

Board voices doubts on huge fee hike

Levy would fund road improvements

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Selectboard reacted skeptically to a proposed 900 percent increase for a fee that funds transportation improvements in Williston.

Town Planner Lee Nellis briefed the board at its Nov. 5 session on the need for a steep increase in the transportation impact fee. Developers pay the levy when they receive building permits.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said the fee, now $300 per trip end, would have to be increased to $2,824 per trip end to fund transportation improvements over the next 10 years.

Trips ends are the number of vehicles coming and going from a home or business during the afternoon rush hour.

Selectboard members wondered if the fee would put home prices out of reach and create hardships for small business. The town also levies education and recreation impact fees totaling more than $10,000 for a single-family home and much more for a commercial building.

The existing fee, which has not been increased in many years, is not nearly large enough to pay for infrastructure needs created by new development, Nellis said. That means existing property taxpayers must foot the bill for traffic problems they did not cause.

“So we have a system now, because fees are too low, that’s really inequitable,” he said.

Some Selectboard members, however, thought the fee hike was simply too much.

“Sticker shock I guess is the way to put it,” said Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs. “I’m nowhere near being OK with it. I think there is a huge liability to that in terms of who can afford to live in Williston.”

Board member Ted Kenney wondered if the fee increase could affect Williston’s ability to attract new businesses. He noted the town is trying to encourage infill development near big-box stores.

Chain retailers and other large corporations view impact fees as part of the cost of doing business, Nellis said. He added that smaller companies typically lease, so the fee would have a relatively small effect on them.

Fehrs asked if there was a way to give small businesses a break on the fee. Kenney asked if the fee could be progressive.

Nellis said that the fee must be based solely on a new development’s impact on transportation infrastructure or it could be challenged in court. The rationale for the fee, he said, is that “everybody pays their fair share.”

The town, however, could consider subsidies for things such as affordable housing. Nellis presented a proposal for waiving impact fees for affordable housing units later in the meeting.

The Planning Commission debated the impact fee this summer and recommended the hike because it was the only way Williston could fund the many transportation projects planned in the next decade. The town’s share of the projects, which include building grid streets around Taft Corners and widening the Interstate 89 overpass, would be an estimated $8 million.

“Going as high as $2,800 is really severe,” Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell told the board. “But that’s because we weren’t charging enough for a long time. The more time we spent on this, the more we realized this was important for Williston … to play catch-up.”

There is some urgency to raise the fee soon, lest the town forgo revenue from pending development. The 356-unit Finney Crossing subdivision, for example, would pay hundreds of thousands more in transportation impact fees under the new proposal, Nellis said. The town has approved the project but construction has not begun.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said he expects the board to revisit the proposed impact fee increase later this month or in December.

[Read more…]

Board customizes Circ Highway plan

Town will lobby for hybrid of existing options

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Mixing and matching existing options, the Williston Selectboard on Monday crafted a homemade alternative to the Circumferential Highway.

The board was trying to beat a Nov. 8 deadline, which has since been extended to Nov. 21, for comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, an exhaustive analysis of highway building options. The input will be considered when state and federal officials pick a final design next year.

Selectboard members listened to public comment and debated options for about an hour. In the end, it combined some of the 11 alternatives listed in the EIS.

“I hate to suggest your hands are tied,” said Town Planner Lee Nellis as the board wondered if it must choose from among the existing alternatives.

Nellis said the board should do what is best for Williston “even if it means going outside the box and mashing alternatives together.”

The highway envisioned by the board would be a cross between the originally planned divided highway and a slower-speed parkway. It would follow the originally planned Circ route between Interstate 89 and Vermont 117 in Essex.

The board wants to include intersections at U.S. 2 and Redmond Road, each with an underpass or overpass. Though those features are frequently seen on divided highways, the board said it would prefer a parkway-style road to reduce noise.

The board’s hybrid approach departs from the 11 alternatives listed in the draft EIS released this summer. The alternatives fall into three broad categories: a limited-access highway or a boulevard along the originally planned Circ route; widening Vermont 2A to three or four lanes through Williston and Essex and replacing some intersections with roundabouts; or a hybrid that uses parts of each approach.

The Circ as originally proposed more than 20 years ago called for a limited-access highway from I-89 in Williston to Vermont 127 in Colchester. To date, only the portion through Essex has been constructed.

Ground was broken on the Williston segment in 2004. But construction was halted 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 to the current alternatives.

The original Circ design is numbered 16a in the EIS study. Options 16b and 16c are variations on that design, with 16b featuring interchanges on U.S. 2 and Redmond Road and 16c having an exit only at Mountain View Road.

At a meeting last month, the Selectboard seemed to support option 17, a parkway running along the same route but having at-grade intersections instead of ramps and a lower speed limit. But after public comment, considerable debate and a failed motion on Monday, the board changed course.

Most of the discussion focused on speed, noise and intersections.

Williston resident Charlie Dykes urged the board to choose an option that would not add congestion. He said the town already has too many stoplights and it didn’t make sense to build another slow-moving road.

“I guess I just have the traffic light blues,” he said, later adding, “In order to succeed with this, it has to change things, it has to move people around.”

George Gerecke, Williston’s representative on the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization, said it was important to give motorists just passing through Williston a “straight shot” without having to stop at intersections. He said the original Circ design or one of its variations would best accomplish that goal.

But Nellis said the parkway would produce far less noise for nearby homeowners. He said EIS data show that vehicles going 65 mph on a divided highway make far more noise than those going 45 mph on a parkway.

Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said in an interview Tuesday that those speeds are incorrect. He said the original Circ alternative and its variations would be designed for 50 mph, the parkway for about 40 mph. Those speed limits could be altered upon the request of local officials.

Planning Commission member Kevin Batson said the commission recommended the parkway option because it best reduces traffic on Vermont 2A and North Williston Road.

He also said an intersection at U.S. 2 would allow both local and through traffic to easily access the new thoroughfare and bypass 2A and North Williston Road.

Otherwise, “traffic would be all focused in the wrong direction,” he said. “Rather than easing the congestion points, you’d be making them worse.”

But Selectboard member Judy Sassorossi said residents she’s heard from don’t want a Circ exit at U.S. 2. The town had long opposed such an exit amid fears that it would funnel traffic into the village.

She seconded a motion by board member Andy Mikell to support option 16b. But after some additional debate, they, along with all the other board members, rejected the motion.

Then board members Ted Kenney and Jeff Fehrs separately suggested the town support options 16a, 16b, 16c or 17 and proposed modifications to those designs.

The board directed Town Manager Rick McGuire to draft a letter that details Williston’s highway design preferences while emphasizing that the town opposes any alternative involving improvements on Vermont 2A. The letter will also oppose a no-build option and promise changes to Williston’s Comprehensive Plan, which currently calls for construction of the Circ as originally designed.

State and federal transportation officials are scheduled to select one of the alternatives by next summer.

Zicconi said proposals that mix multiple alternatives are “perfectly legitimate.” But he said officials must be able to determine how well custom-made alternatives work based on data in the existing EIS.

“If an option takes us in a direction where we don’t know what the impacts will be or they haven’t been studied, it puts us in a more precarious spot,” he said.

[Read more…]

CVU students lace up to support a former track coach

By Rachel Gill
Observer correspondent

Ready, set, go! With that, close to 80 racers bolted out of the starting gate, all propelled by a desire to support a local woman’s battle with cancer.

As part of the Sunshine Fun Run/Walk held in Charlotte on Nov. 3, racers represented various Vermont high schools, including Champlain Valley Union. The students, along with community members, laced up their shoes for the three-mile race that raised over $1,500 to defray medical costs for Pam Paradee of Bristol, a former CVU track coach diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2006. Upon being diagnosed, Paradee was forced to take a leave of absence from her current teaching position at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro.

Race organizers included Martha Keenan of Charlotte, who donated the use of her land and her neighbor’s land for the race, and current CVU Cross Country coach Scott Bliss.

Funds raised will be put into The Sunshine Fund, created by CVU staff and students to help support the Paradee family. Dan Shepardson, CVU Fairbanks House Director and one of the Sunshine Fund coordinators, said while the initial intent of the fund was to support the Paradees, it will also be available to other members of the greater CVU community in times of need.

The race is one of many events organized by CVU staff and students to add to the fund. So far, events have included a basketball tournament held last year that students named the “Pam Jam” and a student-organized skateboarding event at Burton Snowboards in Burlington.

Among the students suiting up for the Sunshine Fun Run was Ali Barnes, a CVU junior from Charlotte who had Pam as a track coach her freshman year.

“Pam always supported and pushed us because she really believed in our potential,” Barnes said.

For Barnes’ fellow teammate Maddy Christian, a CVU junior from Williston, helping Pam is a family affair. Paradee’s husband Troy Paradee is currently a CVU wellness teacher.

“ Troy is my advisor and even during this hard time he always has a smile on his face,” Christian said. “Our team thought this was a good opportunity to come out and give back some of what the Paradees have given us.”

This is not the first time Barnes and Christian have come out to support the Paradees. Last year, Troy Paradee organized a team called Believe It and Achieve It to run in the Vermont City Marathon in May in Burlington. Due to his wife’s diagnosis, he and his wife withdrew from the competition. CVU students offered to take over the team.

“We had a great time and actually did considerably well,” Barnes said.

After receiving chemotherapy treatment just days before the Sunshine Fun Race, Paradee was unable to attend. However, Troy Paradee said his family has a message for racers.

“We want to thank everyone involved and say how much we appreciate the support our family has received and also the support these efforts will provide to other families as well,” Paradee said. “It has been truly overwhelming watching students put so much heart into this, it’s beyond anything we could have ever imagined.”

Paradee also said he hopes these efforts will teach students a lesson.

“This is a great opportunity for students to realize that they can do things to help others and I hope they take that with them into their adulthood,” Paradee said.

To make a donations to the CVU fund contact Dan Shepardson at DShepardson@cvuhs.org or at 482-7100. Online donations to the Paradees can also be made at www.pamparedee.net.

[Read more…]