June 24, 2018

Observer hires new editor

Observer staff report

The Williston Observer has hired Greg Duggan to replace former editor Ben Moger-Williams, whose last day with the paper was Sept. 28.

Duggan assumed the editor’s desk this week after spending last week training with Moger-Williams. Duggan spent a year as a staff reporter for the Daily News Transcript in Norwood, Mass., a suburb of Boston. Prior to that position, he covered the city of Melrose, Mass. as a staff reporter for the Melrose Free Press, a weekly newspaper.

Duggan graduated from Middlebury College in 2004.

Moger-Williams moves to Colorado this month with his fiancée, Michala Christine Peabody, where the two plan to pursue adventures and studies. Moger-Williams hopes to continue his career in journalism.

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Town could change course on Circ

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Steering longtime town policy in a different direction, the Williston Planning Commission recently endorsed an alternative to the Circumferential Highway.

The commission last week recommended the town support Alternative 17, one of several options still on the table as part of an Environmental Impact Statement process being conducted by state and federal transportation officials.

The alternative calls for a four-lane, boulevard-style road running from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 289 in Essex. It would include intersections at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road.

Though the alternative runs along the Circ’s originally-planned route, it differs significantly from the initial design of a divided highway. The option eliminates on-ramps and overpasses at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road, opting instead for signalized intersections and a landscaped median.

In short, the option is a parkway instead of a highway. Planning Commission members said in a statement it would be a better way to bypass congested Vermont 2A, the main reason for building the Circ.

“The Planning Commission’s review of the alternatives studied in the (Environmental Impact Statement) led to an agreement that a landscaped boulevard or parkway will have fewer adverse impacts and be more consistent with Williston’s evolving character than a higher speed, limited access highway,” the statement said.

The Williston Selectboard is scheduled to review the recommendation on Monday. The board may or may not decide to adopt the resolution as the town’s official policy and forward it to be included in the ongoing EIS process.

The proposed change of course – most town officials, past and present, have supported the original Circ – comes as the public comment phase of the EIS draws to a close. The process, initiated after a federal judge ruled that the previous study was outdated, has whittled dozens of alternatives down to 11, including a no-build option.

Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell said the commission felt obligated to take a “clear, firm position” about which option was best for Williston. As an advisory body, he said the commission was the right group to digest the massive draft Environmental Impact Statement, which runs thousands of pages, and determine if there was a better alternative to the Circumferential Highway.

The boulevard option was deemed best because it would permit slower speeds than the Circ, thereby producing less noise and disruption for nearby neighborhoods like South Ridge and Brennan Woods, Yandell said.

He also noted that the alternative improves traffic flow throughout the area and has a smaller impact on nearby wetlands.

The alternatives still being considered can be grouped 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 draft EIS analyzes the impact of the road-building alternatives, looking at the effect each has on traffic, the environment and the economy.

In its written statement, the commission strongly opposed the 2A alternatives. Yandell said they would be a “disaster” for people living along the road.

“These alternatives will result in deteriorating neighborhood conditions along Route 2A while providing only small improvements in regional mobility and minimal relief from increasing traffic volumes on North Williston and other town roads that are now compelled to provide regional mobility,” the statement said.

The recommendation is not unconditional. The commission wants Alternative 17 to include an overpass for the town’s recreation path and at-grade crossings for bicycles and pedestrians at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road. The commission also said access should be limited to those two intersections, with the possibility of a third connection to the proposed regional landfill on Redmond Road.

The recommendation comes long after other area towns weighed in on their preferences. Since the EIS process started, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester have urged transportation officials to build the Circ as originally planned.

Earlier this year, the town of Essex adopted a resolution opposing the 2A alternatives while reserving judgment on the other options, said Jeff Carr, chairman of the Essex Selectboard.

Though Williston’s Comprehensive Plan has long stated support for the original Circ design, the Selectboard has resisted picking one option since the EIS process started. Board members have said they wanted to wait until the study was completed.

Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said the most important consideration is which option best improves traffic flow and safety.

But conformance with existing town plans will be a factor when the Federal Highway Administration makes the final decision on which alternatives to build, he said. Municipal resolutions backed by consistent statements in town plans will receive serious consideration.

“A formal resolution related to a town plan would weigh heavier than an individual comment,” Zicconi said.

The Williston Planning Commission’s recommended resolution is accompanied by proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan intended to make it consistent with the new position.

First proposed more than 30 years ago, the Circ as originally designed would be a 16-mile highway running from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 127 in Colchester. Only the Essex segment has been completed.

Ground was broken on the Williston stretch 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.

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Circ Hearings on Thursday

Observer staff report

The Federal Highway Administration, Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Corps of Engineers will hold two joint meetings on Thursday, Oct. 4 to allow the public to comment on the Circumferential Highway.

The first meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Expo, 105 Pearl St., Essex Junction. The night meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Williston Central School Auditorium, 195 Central School Drive, Williston.

The original design for the Circ emerged more than 30 years ago as a 16-mile highway running from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 127 in Colchester.

The Essex Junction portion of the highway opened in 2003, but legal disagreements delayed further construction until 2004. Soon after groundbreaking in Williston, however, a federal judge ruled that construction must stop until a new Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, was filed.

The meetings will allow the public to comment on the draft EIS, which was published on Aug. 10. The draft EIS analyzes three main alternatives: a limited-access highway or a boulevard along the originally planned Circ route; widening Vermont Rte. 2A to three or four lanes through Williston and Essex and replacing some intersections with roundabouts; or constructing a hybrid that uses parts of each approach.

Written comments on the draft EIR can be submitted until Nov. 8, 2007 by mail to Kenneth Robie, Project Manager, Vermont Agency of Transportation, One National Life Drive, Drawer 33, Montpelier, Vt. 05633, by email to Ken.Robie@state.vt.us or by fax to 802-828-2437. Comments can also be mailed to Kenneth R. Sikora Jr., Environmental Program Manager, Federal Highway Administration Region 1, P.O. Box 568, Montpelier, Vt. 05601, emailed to Kenneth.sikora@fhwa.dot.gov or faxed to 802-828-4424. The project Web site is located at www.circeis.org.

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 www.circeis.org. A free CD-ROM containing the study can be obtained by contacting Sikora and Robie at the above addresses.

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Church repairs will proceed from bottom up

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The fire-damaged Old Brick Church will be restored to its former historic glory by year’s end, a town official said.

The 175-year-old structure in Williston Village was hit by lightning in June, igniting a blaze that destroyed the cupola and damaged the roof. Though firefighters quickly doused the blaze and saved the building, there was extensive water damage.

In the past few months, the church has been dried out and cleaned up, and the town has found contractors for much of the remaining work. Insurance will cover repairs, but the total cost has yet to be tallied.

“At this point, we don’t have the bottom dollar,” said Public Works Director Neil Boyden. “We’re taking it as we go.”

The town received bids last week for repairs to the bell tower, the most expensive part of the work. Boyden said bids were solicited from contractors that were qualified to restore historic structures.

A low bid of $110,143 was submitted by Bread Loaf Corp. of Middlebury. The firm will take the building-topping cupola that housed the church’s bell and restore the structure before placing it back on the church, Boyden said.

The fire all but destroyed the cupola. The only part that could be saved was the finial, the ball topping the structure. Boyden said the finial will be restored by covering the original wood with new copper.

Repairs elsewhere will be made using modern materials that are designed to look historically correct.

The bell itself could not be saved – Boyden said it was “decapitated” when the lightning struck – so a used replacement is being sought.

New wiring and circuit breakers will be installed at an estimated cost of $11,450, Boyden said. He expects power to be restored by the end of this week.

Finally, water-damaged sheetrock and plaster will be repaired. That work has not yet been put out to bid.

Jack Price, an Old Brick Church trustee, said the repairs will proceed from the “bottom up.” The basement will be finished first, then the sanctuary and finally the cupola.

The church has been closed since the fire, affecting weddings and other events that generate revenue for the town-owned building and help defray maintenance costs.

“Since the first week of June, we’ve been out of commission for all weddings, which are our main source of revenue,” Price said.

An eclectic array of groups use the church, many of them holding meetings in the basement, he said. They include neighborhood associations, political committees and civic groups. A small church called the Christian Faith Assembly had been conducting services there each Sunday.

The church waives fees for nonprofit groups, but charges $150 for weddings. Price said the church hosts 20 to 25 weddings, most of them during the summer and fall.

Boyden declined to say when individual parts of the church will be repaired because of the uncertainties associated with contractors’ schedules. But he said all the work should be completed by the end of December.

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CVU student returns home after car crash

By Rachel Gill
Observer correspondent

Simeon Dube, a 14-year-old Williston resident and Champlain Valley Union High School student, returned home on Tuesday from Fletcher Allen Health Care following a car accident last week.

“I want to thank all the Williston residents working in the ER,” said Dube’s mother, Priscilla Dube. “It was a huge comfort to know that the people helping were people that we know. All of the support they provided was terrific.”

Hinesburg Community Police are continuing their investigation into the one-car accident that occurred on Oct. 3.

Police responded to the crash at 8:18 a.m., after Dube’s sister, 16-year-old Carolyn Dube, lost control of her vehicle while rounding a curve on Pond Road in Hinesburg on the way to school. The car, a 2001 Volkswagen Beetle, went into a ditch, overturned, hit a rock and crashed into a tree before coming to a stop.

Simeon Dube was trapped in the car before being removed by witnesses. After being treated by the Hinesburg Fire Department, both teens were rushed to Fletcher Allen Health Care by Saint Michael’s College and Charlotte ambulances.

According to Fletcher Allen Health Care Patient Services, Simeon Dube was upgraded from critical to good condition prior to being released. Carolyn Dube was treated and released.

“Whenever incidents like this occur, CVU guidance services are activated to support students and make sure to contact the family to provide any support they may need.” said CVU Principal Sean McMannon. “We would like to send our thoughts to the family and hope for Simeon’s speedy recovery.”

Two members of the CVU staff happened to respond to the accident scene, including one administration member and a member of the maintenance staff.

Hinesburg Community Police Chief Chris Morrell said the stretch of road where the accident occurred is not known as a particularly dangerous area.

“We are still interviewing a fair number of witnesses to the accident to determine if citations will be issued,” Morrell said.

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Families enjoy unique bike company

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

As an adaptive bike company expands into Vermont to benefit people with motor challenges, several Williston families have come forward to support the group and take advantage for their children.

AmTryke, the non-profit group that makes the bikes, opened a Vermont chapter last month. At the kickoff event on Sept. 15, about 30 families, including a handful from Williston, went to the University of Vermont to try the bikes.

The Francis family from Williston won a bike for their 3-year-old son, Cutter, who has cerebral palsy. The Leombruno family, also from Williston, purchased one for their son, Boedy, 4, who has severe autism, cerebral palsy and visual impairments.

“It gives (Boedy) a sense of security and freedom. He’s doing what all the other kids are doing,” said the boy’s mother, Patti Leombruno. “It’s so special because Boedy’s balance is so bad, when he runs there’s always the fear he’s going to fall. The only places he’s really safe are in the pool or riding this tricycle. His feet are strapped into it.”

AmTryke belongs to AMBUCS Inc., an organization based in North Carolina and described on its Web site as “dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities.”

Marie MacLeod, a pediatric physical therapist and the president of the Vermont chapter of AmTryke, spent two years working to bring the group to the state. Beneficiaries of the bikes, MacLeod said, can include people with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism or those injured in car accidents.

“These kids moved so much easier on their bikes. They can move at speeds they could never move at (while walking),” MacLeod said. “They can get out and do stuff with their peers, brothers, sisters.”

Deborha Francis said she wants Cutter to use the bike to strengthen leg muscles to keep his hip from popping out of its socket when he walks. The boy also thoroughly enjoyed riding the bike.

“He was laughing, smiling, because (with) all the equipment they had to strap him into place, he could pedal it himself, move it himself,” Cutter said.

The adaptive features vary based on the needs of the rider, but can include a locking feature on the steering, backrests, foot straps and hand grips in which the rider moves his or her arms to help pedal.

Many of the recipients get their bikes off the wish list, but the Leombrunos decided to purchase one for Boedy to hopefully receive a bike before the cold weather.

“When his body outgrows it, we donate this bike and get on the wish list for a bigger bike,” Leombruno said.

By purchasing a bike for their son, the Leombrunos also contributed towards the AmTryke fundraising. Once the Vermont chapter raises enough money for 10 bikes, MacLeod said the national organization will donate 10 more bikes.

When Vermont AmTryke held the opening event, the national chapter brought a trailer full of different parts and adaptations of the bikes, allowing dozens of people to try the vehicles.

Anyone looking to donate or learn more about the organization can contact MacLeod at 862-0299.

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