February 25, 2020

Williston farm looks for community support

Boutin Farm first in Williston to offer CSA program

March 27, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Lisa Boutin had something of an epiphany while working several farmers' markets last summer with her husband, Kevin. So many people enjoyed their fresh vegetables and berries, why not have more community members actually become part of the farm?

"We had so much fun at the farmers' markets meeting so many new people," said Boutin, the co-owner of Boutin Family Farm. "It's great to be part of something the community can really get behind."

The Boutins also set up a makeshift farm stand at the farm's location on the corner of South Road and Christmas Lane. Many locals stopped to buy vegetables at the farm stand, Boutin noticed, and the idea of becoming more community driven grew increasingly attractive.

"We thought it would be great to have people come to our farm and be part of a community," said Boutin, who also works as a teacher's aide at Allen Brook School.

The Boutins decided to turn their small farm into Williston's first Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program, which allows people to buy so-called "shares" in the farm before the growing season and then get bags of vegetables throughout the summer and early fall. The upfront money allows farms to cover early operating costs and focus on planting and growing for "shareholders," Boutin said.

The CSA concept has existed for more than 20 years in Vermont, but has gained in popularity recently as people have become more concerned about where their food is coming from, said Jean Hamilton, the farm share coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

"It's an investment in the whole season and allows for a sense of community to form," she said.

Hamilton said there are 13 CSA farms in Chittenden County and 67 statewide. One of those in Chittenden County is Goose Creek Farm in St. George, started by Lisa and Greg Beliveau 15 years ago. Goose Creek and Boutin Family Farm offer the only CSA programs in their respective towns.

"Right from the start, we've had a lot of members," Lisa Beliveau said, estimating the farm currently has 30 to 40 shareholders.

Goose Creek is located right off Route 2A with a permanent farm stand in the summer on the road. The farm has 4,000 square feet of greenhouses and more than eight acres designated organic certified.

Boutin spoke with Beliveau when developing the Boutin Family Farm CSA approach, even modeling her share program after Goose Creek's.

Beliveau told Boutin to be aware of how much customers will get per share. She stressed not to give too much so as not to waste vegetables.

"It's a way to get people connected to their food source," Beliveau said. "It doesn't matter how you buy locally, just that you do buy locally."

How it works

At Boutin Family Farm, customers will be able to pick up their vegetables once a week for 12 weeks. Boutin said   a full share, for $325, should feed a family of four for a week. A half share, for $225, should feed two adults for a week, but Boutin warned what feeds a family of four may only feed two vegetarians. The costs are cheaper if customers sign up before June 1.

In addition to the CSA program, the Boutins have instituted a debit share program where individuals can pay $100 or more up front and shop the farm stand until the money runs out. Anyone participating in that program will get 10 percent off vegetables.

Vegetables will vary throughout summer and fall. Vegetables including lettuce, scallions and summer squash will be available in the early season; carrots, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, corn, onions and broccoli during mid-season; eggplant, sweet peppers, pumpkins and winter squash in the late season.

Boutin said customers would be able to pick up their shares on Mondays or Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

So far, the farm has seven members signed up. Boutin still plans to publicize the CSA program.

Boutin Family

The Boutin family has been farming in Williston for more than three generations. Much of the family continues to live around the rolling hills and patchwork fields of southern Williston.

"Everyone is very close with each other in this family," Lisa Boutin said. "We're pretty active with what's going with each other."

The Boutins will continue to sell at farmers' markets in the summer, including two in Williston and one in Richmond.

"People I've spoken with have become really excited about having a local CSA around," Boutin said. "Having someone local producing your food is something I think the whole community can get behind."

For more information or to sign up for a CSA, contact Boutin Family Farm at 734-8406 and Goose Creek Farm at 482-3404.

[Read more…]

Town bolsters permit enforcement

New employee started this week

March 27, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Lisa Murdock has spent much of her career helping developers with permits. Now she moves to the other side of the excavation.

Murdock started working for the town of Williston on Monday. She fills a new position that includes enforcing permit conditions and inspecting construction sites.

The job represents a change of perspective for Murdock, who for the past decade has worked as an engineer for private firms.

"It's completely the opposite side of the table," she said. "It's going to be different, but it's going to be interesting to see that side of it."

Her title will be engineering technician. She reports to Public Works Director Neil Boyden but will also work with the Planning Department.

Permit enforcement has been problematic in the past because of staffing limitations, Boyden said. Murdock will visit construction sites to ensure developers are following rules regarding storm water controls and other standards established during the town's permitting process.

The position will include a mix of office and field work.

"It's sure not going to be all glory here," Boyden said. "Sometimes she may need rubber boots to inspect a septic system."

Murdock will be paid $45,240 annually, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire. But Boyden said the position could actually save money in the long run.

Infrastructure such as septic systems and drainage pipes are buried, so without timely inspections substandard work may not be noticed until many years later, Boyden said. Then the problem can cost individual homeowners or the town thousands to fix.

Permit enforcement has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years. A new study by the Vermont Natural Resources Council found permit violations at construction sites around Vermont that caused erosion and pollution of nearby waterways. Legislation being drafted in the Vermont House would stiffen penalties for such violations.

Boyden said state and local permits tend to mirror each other, so the new position will help ensure developers comply with rules designed to protect the environment.

Murdock, 36, was born in Burlington and grew up in the Lake Champlain Islands. She attended the University of Vermont, where she received a degree in civil engineering. She lives in North Hero with her husband, Michael.

Murdock has worked as an engineer for Llewellyn-Howley Inc. in South Burlington and for ESPC, a Williston civil and environmental engineering firm.

Projects she worked on included the Ice Barn in Milton and the Hampton Inn in Plattsburgh, N.Y. She also helped design sidewalks in Hinesburg and other Vermont towns.

That experience dovetails with her responsibilities in Williston. Part of the job involves helping develop the long-planned series of sidewalks throughout Williston. Voters approved $2.6 million in bond funding for sidewalk construction in 2004, but much of the work has stalled because of residents' reluctance to grant rights-of-way.

There were 20 applicants for the new position. Boyden said Murdock's experience with both field and design work made her the most well-rounded candidate.

Murdock is likely to encounter many of the same developers she used to work with in the private sector. Will she find it hard to enforce the rules when she sees a familiar face?

"Not at all," she said. "My responsibility is to look out for the best interests of the town of Williston."

[Read more…]

Lake Iroquois dock wins approval

State says facility won't increase boat traffic

March 27, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

State regulators have approved a public dock on Lake Iroquois that was proposed by a Boy Scout as a community service but drew opposition from homeowners worried about boat traffic and the environment.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation issued the ruling on Tuesday. The approval includes 18 conditions, most notably one that moves the structure from its originally proposed location and places it adjacent to the existing boat ramp.

Jeffrey Dumas, the Williston teenager who had proposed the dock to fulfill an Eagle Scout requirement, was pleased with the decision.

"It's great news," he said in a brief telephone interview between classes at Champlain Valley Union High School.

He said the dock is the final step he needs to complete to become an Eagle Scout.

The dock will be 50 feet long, with 40 feet extending into the water and the remainder on shore. Located at the northern end of the lake on land controlled by the state Fish and Wildlife Department, it is designed to be moved out of the water when the boating season ends.

The dock would ease access for people with handicaps by permitting them to step into their boats rather than clamber over the bow, the state's ruling said. It would also help those who tow their boats to the lake by allowing them to dock their watercraft while they park their vehicle.

Dumas had been working on the dock design for several months last year when word got out. More than two dozen people then wrote to the state to express reservations.

The opposition triggered a public hearing. About 40 people attended the meeting held in January.

Opponents, apparently all people who own property on or around the lake, said the dock would attract more boaters and so increase the chances of further infecting the lake with invasive aquatic life. The lake is already clogged with Eurasian milfoil.

They also warned that the lake was crowded on summer weekends, and adding more boats might lead to a collision. Others said the dock's location and size would impact shoreline habitat and harm the area's natural beauty.

But the meeting also drew supporters, some of whom said the dock would serve those not fortunate enough to own lakefront homes.

Some favoring the dock said they struggle loading small children into their boats when launching from the ramp. Others with physical limitations said the dock would help them board their boats.

Susan Lamb, who owns property along the lake with her husband, Tony, was one of those who expressed concerns about the dock's impact on natural habitat. The new location won her over.

"I think it's a nice compromise," she said. "I think it will open access to the lake for people who might have trouble otherwise."

Roger Crouse, president of the Lake Iroquois Association, said he has mixed feelings about the dock's approval. He emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of other members of the nonprofit, which consists of property owners who want to protect and enhance the lake's ecosystem.

He was pleased about the state's decision to leave undisturbed the area where the dock was originally proposed.

"I like the idea of not mowing that area where they (were going to) put the dock," he said. "That's going to help wildlife, and that's good."

But he disagrees with the state's assertion that the dock won't increase boat traffic.

"I'm just not sure how they can make that statement without a scientific study," he said.

Opponents have 30 days to appeal the decision in Vermont Environmental Court. Crouse said it was too soon to tell if his organization will appeal.

Dumas said he still has to build the dock, a project he hopes to complete by summer. Several community groups and individuals have offered to help, he said, and his fellow Boy Scouts may also lend a hand.

The experience of hearing different views and dealing with opposition has been an eye-opener, Dumas said.

"I've learned a lot as far as how things work," he said. "It's been a great experience. It's been a light into the world."

[Read more…]

Church must replace vinyl siding in historic district

Parishioners say decision will add thousands to $400,000 renovation

March 27, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

It wasn't good news Tuesday night for the parishioners of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. The Williston Development Review Board told the church it must replace the vinyl siding on the rectory when planned renovations begin.

"It's disappointing," said Larry Assell, parish spokesman. "It's hard to believe the flexibility just isn't there. We didn't think we'd run into so much push back."

The board approved the overall application for the rectory's renovation, but would not allow the old, existing vinyl siding to be replaced with a newer vinyl.

The design review guide for the Williston Village Historic District states buildings should adhere to the historic nature of the original structure and fit with the architectural character of other buildings in the district. For exterior walls, the guide says, "Materials should be brick or narrow wood clapboard."

"We don't write the rules," said Kevin McDermott, chairman of the DRB, during the meeting. "We're here to enforce them, unfortunately."

Assell, who works on the parish's finance committee, estimated the total cost of the renovation at around $400,000 if the board approved the vinyl. He estimated the cost of using new clapboard to be close to $30,000.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church rectory is an Italianate-style farmhouse built in the 1870s. The building is listed on Vermont's historic registry.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said the DRB's motion on the siding may not force the church to use clapboard. Based on the conditions of approval, the church must remove a vinyl section of wall on each side of the house while a town staff member is present. If clapboard is present beneath the vinyl, the church must then replace or repair the wood siding; if the clapboard is not present, the church can use a cement-based fiberboard to replace the vinyl.

Assell said if clapboard exists underneath the old siding, the $30,000 cost of new clapboard might prohibit a continuation of the exterior renovations.

Yet McDermott argued the clapboard cost was less than 8 percent of the church's total renovation budget.

"In my humble opinion, 7.23 percent isn't a large proportion," he said.

About 20 people attended the meeting, and several parishioners who spoke disagreed with McDermott's assessment of the additional cost. Williston resident Kerry Enright explained churchgoers' wallets are already tight when it comes to money.

"We've all made financial sacrifices here," Enright said.

Caroline Harris, also a Williston resident, explained the upkeep of clapboard would require time and money and wondered if the town would rather see peeling paint than vinyl.

"I take offense that you don't like vinyl siding," she told the board.

Scott O'Neil, a parishioner from Richmond, said that since many of the churchgoers to the Immaculate Heart of Mary are older, they would have to pay an outside contractor to keep the wood siding freshly painted, never mind insurance costs if parishioners took up the job.

Parishioner George Gerecke said the rectory had vinyl siding since as long as he could remember. Assell added the church did not have records going back to when the original vinyl was installed, but he believes it happened more than 40 years ago.

"There has been a bias against vinyl by the town and I'm not sure why it exists," Gerecke said. "My argument is whether or not vinyl or wood even matters to the image for the buildings for the people coming into the village."

But McDermott said the board has not made exceptions in the past to other churches in the village that have wanted to include designs not in keeping with the historic code.

"I by no means want people to think they're being singled out like this is some sort of anti-Roman Catholic Church thing," he said. "It puts us in a tough spot."

Assell said the church wants to find a middle ground with the town so it can begin the planned renovations in May. Besides adding new siding, the church plans to turn the rectory's upstairs into a three-bedroom apartment for Rev. Donald Ravey, while turning the downstairs into a meeting place for parishioners.

The church now plans to weigh its options. Assell believes cement fiberboard might be something the church could work with, but it all depends on what lies underneath the old vinyl.

"This has been a much larger issue than we ever anticipated it would be," Assell said. "We'd like to see flexibility in our local government. It's OK to say things can change a little."

[Read more…]

Selectboard to consider new zoning rules

March 20, 2008
By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Another round of revisions to Williston's zoning ordinance will be discussed during a public hearing next week.

The Selectboard hosts the meeting at Town Hall on Monday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. The session will cover 13 newly drafted chapters of the town's unified development bylaw.

The chapters address mostly routine administrative matters such as ensuring there is the proper parking and infrastructure for new development.

David Yandell is chairman of the Williston Planning Commission, which makes recommendations for zoning revisions to be adopted by the Selectboard. He said it is important for the public to pay attention to zoning changes, but acknowledged that most of the revisions involve rules that are as "dry as dust."

The new rules address two pairs of zoning districts. One is around the Interstate 89 interchange. The second includes Williston's aging industrial areas.

Development pressures have mounted in recent years near I-89. The new ordinance breaks the area down into two districts, gateway south and gateway north.

The Planning Commission tried to balance travelers' desire for amenities near interstates — hotels and gas stations, for example —
with homeowners' preference to restrict development, Yandell said.

The new rules attempt to limit the visual impact of proposed projects while still allowing development, Yandell said. Among the changes is a requirement that only 35 percent of vegetation can be cut on wooded sites.

Zoning revisions also involve Williston's industrial districts, which are along Industrial Avenue and Redmond Road.

Businesses and landowners have urged the town to be more flexible in the types of uses permitted to accommodate changes in the economy, Yandell said.

"We struggled with the boundaries and the types of uses that should be allowed as manufacturing leaves the U.S," he said.

The new zoning eases restrictions on the kinds of uses while trying to avoid conflicts, Yandell said. The idea is to maintain a healthy industrial base while ensuring neighboring businesses are compatible.

This group of zoning revisions is the second of three. The Selectboard previously passed altered rules governing big-box stores off Marshall Avenue and streamlined the permitting process.

The last group will include more controversial rules, such as those regarding outdoor lighting and signs.

Yandell said he is unsure when the final zoning revisions will be completed.
[Read more…]

Girl Scouts raise money for landmine victims

March 20, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

After a year of learning about landmines and landmine victims, Williston Girl Scout Aleksandra Stamper still can't believe there are so many of the deadly weapons in the world.

"I'm just surprised that so many people have put landmines in the ground to kill people," Stamper said.

Tens of thousands of people have been injured by landmines in hundreds of countries and many can't afford medical treatments to help with rehabilitation. That's where the Girl Scouts in Williston Troop 820 and Essex Troop 125 come in.

The scouts are gearing up for a March 28 fundraiser where they hope to raise $6,000 to benefit a landmine victim in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The victim's name is Anita. She lost a limb after stepping on a landmine more than five years ago.

"The $6,000 should cover the costs of medical expenses (for the victim), including prosthesis and treatments for emotional trauma," said Williston troop leader Jennifer Mignano.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Bosnia and Herzegovina is "heavily contaminated" with landmines. The Eastern European country formed after the former Yugoslavia was torn apart by war in the 1990s as different ethnic and religious groups fought over land. Now, tens of thousands of acres still hold untold amounts of landmines, and thousands of people have been killed or injured in the country.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people are killed by landmines every year around the world, according to the Web site. That's more than 40 people a day.

Based on past fundraising successes the scouts have had, Essex troop leader Chandelle Trahan believes they can reach their goal of $6,000.

"We had such wonderful community support last time, I said why not take it further," she said.

Finding a cause

According to Mignano, the scout troops, looking to do "something with dogs" last year, raised $20,000 for the Marshall Legacy Institute's Children Against Mines Program, or CHAMPS — an organization that purchases, trains and deploys landmine dogs.

The dogs search for mines by smelling for chemicals the buried explosives give off over time, according to CHAMPS director Kimberly McCasland. When dogs discover a mine, they alert their handler immediately.

McCasland praised the Williston and Essex scouts for being the first in the country to raise money for landmine dogs. The girls did so through car washes, festival appearances, corporate and private donations and "lots and lots of bake sales," said Mignano. The money raised by the Girl Scouts sponsored a dog who they named Champlain, after their home lake and valley.

"They have gotten everyone involved in their community," McCasland said. "It's really a community dog they've sponsored."

Champlain is a Belgian Malinois, a common breed of landmine-detecting dog, who will most likely get deployed to Lebanon when it finishes training, Mignano said.

Champlain is the same breed of dog as Utsi, the canine that accompanies McCasland to different anti-landmine events across the country. Utsi is a retired landmine dog who had worked in the African country of Eritrea and has demonstrated her skills several times for the local scout groups.

"These dogs are the heroes of the countries (with landmines)," Mignano said. "They are the countries' greatest hope."

The big event

The fundraising event will happen next Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Catamount Golf Club. McCasland will be on hand with Utsi for demonstrations, and the Williston and Essex Girl Scouts will make presentations. A local song and dance group, the Bosnian Lilies, will perform. Sen. Patrick Leahy — a strong supporter of landmine deactivation — and his wife are expected to attend.

Mignano and Trahan said once the $6,000 is raised for Anita, they hope to continue raising more funds for landmine victims around the world.

"We want to keep going with (the fundraising) because the whole thing is going so great," said Mignano's daughter, Maria Mignano.

Trahan said the Girl Scouts have learned a lot through their efforts, including the advantages they have growing up in the United States.

"It's really hit home for our children that they're fortunate to be able to play in the backyard without getting blown up," she said.

For more information on the upcoming event, call Jennifer Mignano at 878-9577 or Chandelle Trahan at 872-8752. Admission is $30.

[Read more…]

Financial woes at Pine Ridge result in 16 layoffs

Headmaster returning school to core mission

March 20, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The town of Williston will continue to scrape by with a small stockpile of road salt for the rest of the snow season.

Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the town has been unable to procure enough salt to handle much more than a single storm. The town, like other municipalities throughout Vermont and the rest of country, has for months been dealing with a salt shortage due to the unusually severe winter.

The situation hasn't improved since the shortage was first reported last month, Boyden said. The town has cut back on the amount of salt it spreads even as a steady stream of storms have marched across the Northeast.

"I've got to hand it to residents, though," Boyden said. "The community has been very understanding. We've had very few calls from people."

Salt this winter has become an expensive commodity. Boyden said under a Vermont Agency of Transportation contract that also helps supply individual towns, Williston pays $49 a ton. But salt at that price is scarce, so Williston has been buying it for as much as $75 a ton, Boyden said.

The town recently found a new supplier. But Boyden said he didn't want to disclose the name lest other towns hone in on the arrangement.

Road crews for the last several weeks have been spreading a half-and-half mixture of salt and sand. Williston is skipping applications altogether on less-traveled roads and concentrating on hazardous areas that include hills, curves and intersections.

The weather this year has shattered records and tested motorists' patience. In February, 43.3 inches of snow fell, exceeding the previous record set in 1958 by nearly 8 inches, according to National Weather Service office in South Burlington. Including last weekend's storm, 112.2 inches of snow had been recorded as of Monday, the seventh-snowiest season on record.

Aside from the sheer volume of snow, this winter has also been remarkable for the number of storms. Since a brief respite in early January, "it was like one day on, one day off or every other day," said Jason Neilson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

It all adds up to a budget-breaker for Williston. The town planned to spend $98,700 on salt in the 2007-08 fiscal year. As of last week, the town had spent $113,000.

Williston is still within its overtime budget for plow drivers, Boyden said. Many if not most of the storms have occurred during weekdays, a money-saver for the town, albeit a headache for commuters.

Relief from this seemingly endless winter may still be weeks away. The long-term forecast calls for precipitation in some form by mid-week and a potential snowstorm over the weekend, Neilson said.

Boyden noted the last date plows hit the road varies wildly from year to year. In 2006, snowplows were parked for the season on March 21. Last year, the final plowing took place April 16.

Late winter and early spring in Vermont can bring highly unpredictable — and surprisingly snowy — weather, Neilson said.

"It's not out of the question in March and April to have one big one with 10 to 12 inches or more," he said.

[Read more…]

Circ highway bill: $93 million and counting

Only four miles of highway built to date

March 20, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Circumferential Highway's price tag now tops $93 million, just a fraction of what will be spent in coming years if the project is ever completed.

The state Agency of Transportation supplied the figure in response to a request from the Observer. The agency reviewed records dating back to 1983, when the project first received federal funding, to calculate total expenditures to date.

As originally planned, the Circ was to carve a 16-mile arc from Williston to Colchester, bypassing traffic-choked roads in suburban Chittenden County. So far, only a four-mile stretch in Essex has been built.

If the remaining segments are never constructed, no other money is spent and none of the land already acquired can be sold, the project will have cost more than $23 million a mile.

"I'd say after spending nearly $100 million the state doesn't have very much to show for all that money," said Sandra Levine, staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, which has long opposed the highway as originally designed. "This project has been botched from the outset."

Even some Circ supporters were aghast when told of the total expenditures.

Williston resident Mike Coates labeled the escalating price tag "criminal," saying greater government oversight should have been exercised along the way. But he mostly points a wagging finger at environmental groups' numerous legal maneuvers to block the project.

The original budget for the highway was reasonable, Coates said, "but expenditures after that, to me, were just pouring money down a rat hole. We've got the Conservation Law Foundation and Friends of the Earth to blame for all this."

Levine was unapologetic about her organization's ongoing fight against the highway, saying it was an unnecessary project and the money could be better spent elsewhere. But she did admit her group and other environmentalists have generated ill will among highway backers.

"I think it's difficult to be the person who says the emperor has no clothes," she said.

Essex resident Sylvia Allen said she has long been frustrated by the project's delays. But she said the state must push ahead.

"What are they going to do, throw $90 million out the window?" she said.

Breakdown of the costs

More than half the cost to date has involved things other than road building, the state's numbers show. Slightly more than $39 million has been spent on construction, mostly for the Essex segment.

More money has gone toward acquiring rights-of-way, engineering and permitting. A total of about $48 million has been spent for those purposes.

The balance has funded a court-ordered study of the highway's environmental impact. A consultant has been paid $6.4 million so far to conduct the study.

In all, the project has cost $93,628,284.82, the Agency of Transportation calculates. The federal government has paid for most of the project, with its share ranging from 80 to 100 percent depending on the type and timing of the expenditure, according to Ken Robie, project manager for the Agency of Transportation. The state has picked up the rest of the tab.

State highway officials defended the expenditures, noting that paying for some things up front saved money. Buying most of the rights-of-way in the 1990s, for example, avoided rising land prices, said Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi.

But officials acknowledge that spending so much money in advance represented a gamble. The gamble's success hinges on the outcome of an ongoing environmental study of the Williston portion of the project and potential future legal battles over the remaining segments.

In at least one instance so far, however, taking a chance on the Circ did not pay off.

In 2004, state and federal highway officials decided to move ahead with construction of the Williston segments despite knowing that environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation, intended to sue to stop the project.

The job was put out to bid and construction began. But work had to be halted after a federal judge's ruling effectively mandated that the state conduct a new environmental impact study.

A total of $3.7 million has been spent on the Williston portion of the Circ, including a $1.2 million settlement this winter with J.A. McDonald Inc., the project's general contractor. The company sought compensation after its contract was cancelled.

Zicconi said utility relocation work could turn out to be worthwhile if the segment is eventually built as planned. That depends on the outcome of the ongoing study, called an Environmental Impact Statement.

The study has looked at dozens of alternatives to the original design for the Williston segments. Transportation officials settled on three groups of options: the original design, improvements on Vermont 2A, or hybrid approaches that combine elements of the other options. Selection of a preferred alternative is scheduled for this summer.

The alternatives come with estimated price tags ranging from $50 million to $90 million. The original design would cost $75 million.

The state now estimates that the entire highway will cost $275 million, a number that includes past expenditures. The figure, based on current road-building costs and assuming there will be no more delays, represents almost a 40 percent increase from the estimate in 2004.

It is likely, however, that the actual cost will be higher. Additional legal challenges are thought to be a near certainty. Because of the time elapsed since they were issued, it is likely permits will have to be updated, causing further delay. And road construction costs continue to rise.

Still, officials say they continue to be hopeful that the money spent so far will result in a highway that eases congestion.

"It's not necessarily all lost money yet," Zicconi said. "How much of it was a wise investment and how much of it was wasted due to issues beyond our control remains to be seen."

Circ tally

Expenses to date for the Circumferential Highway:

Engineering and permitting


Right-of-way acquisition/utility relocation




Environmental impact study




Source: Vermont Agency of Transportation
[Read more…]

Students take classes while skiing, canoeing

Outdoor semester on the Catamount Trail

March 13, 3008

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

Last Monday night, a school night, nearly a dozen teens sat on the floor of a yurt at On the Loose Expeditions in Huntington, chowing on beans, rice, cabbage, salad and chicken as wind slapped at the canvas walls.

The youths had no intention of taking the bus to school the next morning, or catching a ride with a friend. Instead, they would sleep in the bunks of the yurt — a circular, domed tent — rise before the sun, cook breakfast and begin cross country skiing towards Bolton.

For the past two months the teens had slept in other yurts, a tent or snow caves — snow coffins, the teens called them, because of the shape — turning the forests, mountains and lakes of Vermont and New Hampshire into their classroom.

The 10 students, a teacher and two assistant teachers are cross country skiing along the Catamount Trail, which runs 300 miles from Massachusetts to Canada, and earning high school credit during the trip. Organized by Kroka Expeditions, a self-described “Earth Living Skills School,” the New Hampshire – Vermont Semester: A 600 Mile Journey By Ski and Canoe introduces students to education unavailable in a traditional school.

Once the teens have skied the length of Vermont, they’ll hunker down at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center in East Charleston for a few weeks respite from the nomadic life. But come April, they’ll take to canoes and continue their journey by paddling down the Connecticut River.

“My mom found out about it. She told me about it. I was in a transition between schools and needed something to do,” Eric Hall Reindel, a Williston resident, explained after finishing his meal in the yurt. “I hopped on the bandwagon.”
Hall Reindel plans to return to the Lake Champlain Waldorf School for his senior year in the fall. But for the second half of his junior year, the Vermont Semester made sense. “Eric was needing a break from a traditional classroom,” said his mother, Addie Hall. “He’s a dyslexic student. He’s not a candidate for foreign exchange, because he doesn’t study a foreign language.”

After a trial weekend at Kroka’s base camp in Marlow, N.H., Hall Reindel was sold on spending more than five months in the woods.

“This is a stretch for him. He likes to snowboard, play soccer, but he’s not a diehard outdoors kid, and we’re not a camping family,” Hall said. “To go from zero to winter camping was a big leap for him. I think this is really stretching him.”

Contributed Photo
Taylor Schultz of Portland, Ore. uses flame to
build her own spoon during Kroka's
Vermont Semester.

The learning experience

Since the semester began with almost a month spent in Marlow while getting ready for the trip, Hall Reindel and his fellow students said they’ve been learning how to survive while living close to nature. Before they even left on the trip, they carved spoons and knife handles, slaughtered a pig and butchered a deer for food.

“It’s really basic essential living skills,” said Jesse Cottingham, a student from western Maine.

On the trail, under the guidance of teacher Chris Knapp, students learn biology by studying local plants and animals, and meteorology by tracking the weather. They keep journals for sketches and daily observations.

“There’s a set curriculum, but of course it’s somewhat flexible depending on what they encounter,” said Lisl Hoffer, the semester programs coordinator for Kroka.
More formal lessons come when guest teachers drop in to give classes on drawing, the environment and ecological history of the region.

And as one student said in the yurt, “I think a lot of the learning is not going to happen until we’re home.”

The students admitted that it hasn’t always been an easy, or enjoyable, experience to live so closely within a small group, or to spend long days slogging through rain and snow while carrying heavy backpacks and trying to balance on skinny cross country skis.

“It ebbs and flows like a tide,” Cottingham said of how much he enjoys the trip. “We’re coming together from so many walks of life, learning to be a close family. It takes lot of getting used to. I wouldn’t have necessarily bumped into all you guys walking around, so it’s cool this brought us together.”

As another student said, “Anything worthwhile takes a lot of work.”

For all the challenges the trip has brought, it has also left the students with striking memories, like hiking Mount Abe in 10 inches of fresh powder.

“Stunning,” Celeste Beyer of Montpelier said of the hike up one of the state’s 4,000-foot peaks.
Other students enjoyed building and then spending a night in a snow cave. Others have simply relished the tranquility of nature.

“The silence is pretty amazing sometimes,” said Solina Rulfs of Rockland County, N.Y.

She and her classmates still have plenty of time left to enjoy the wilderness. After leaving On the Loose, the group planned to head to the cross country trails of Bolton, and then to Green River Reservoir in Morrisville. Hoffer said the group expects to reach NorthWoods around March 27.

After a few days of rest, the students will begin preparing for the water portion of the trip by making paddles and building a large canoe that can hold up to seven people.

By late May, the group will return to Marlow. The students graduate from the semester on June 14.

Asked if the outdoor semester beats sitting in a school classroom, the students had an array of responses: “They’re totally different;” “way better;” and “I don’t think you can compare them.”

Said Beyer, “You learn to play while you work.”

The current Vermont Semester costs $12,000, and next year’s tuition will jump to $13,000, though Hoffer said Kroka has scholarships available. The organization also offers a fall semester in Ecuador. More information is available online at www.kroka.org.

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Snafus delay vote results at CVU

Counting slowed by record turnout

March 13, 3008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Voting machine problems and a huge turnout overwhelmed ballot counters at Champlain Valley Union High School last week, delaying the final tally until the next day.

Balloting on the high school's budget as well as funding for school buses and capital projects took place March 4. Each measure passed easily.

But the counts weren't completed until about 2 p.m. the following day, 19 hours after the polls closed and long after other results were released. Officials attributed the delay to voting machine malfunctions, a shortage of help and the large number of ballots.

"Since we had fewer people, one less voting machine and double the number of ballots, it was kind of a nightmare," said Terry Macaig, a Williston Selectboard member and one of several people who helped with the count.

Votes for the high school's budget are cast in Williston, Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne, the towns that fund the school. But unlike balloting for elected offices and town budgets, votes are not tallied where they are cast. Instead, ballots are transported to the high school, where they are commingled and counted.

Ordinarily, the process is completed within three or four hours. But this was far from an ordinary election.

Turnout, driven by widespread interest in the hotly contested Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, was roughly twice that of a typical March election.

Statewide, 46.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary, a record. Individual towns reported similar percentages. In the CVU budget vote, there were 9,492 ballots cast.

So volunteers faced a daunting task after all the ballots arrived at CVU at about 8 p.m. The job was made tougher by voting machine malfunctions.

The machines need a pre-programmed card to work. But one machine had no card, said Joan Lenes, who as clerk of the high school district supervised the vote. She said she did not know why the card was missing.

Williston Town Clerk Deb Beckett said vote-counting machines are supposed to be tested well ahead of the election, though it is unclear who is responsible for the tests. Such a test would have revealed the card was missing.

Williston and Shelburne each sent a voting machine to CVU, Beckett said. But she noted that clerks do not deal with the machines' cards, nor do they test the machines.

Lenes did not know why the machines were not tested.

There were also fewer people to count votes than normal. Each town usually provides volunteers who take turns feeding ballots into the machines. But Lenes said this year Charlotte did not send help.

"I think it's the responsibility of every town to be represented when we are commingling the ballots of every town," Lenes said.

Charlotte Town Clerk Mary Mead said in the past there were plenty of people to count ballots. When Charlotte sent volunteers in previous years, they were not allowed to participate because they were not members of the town's Board of Civil Authority.

Mead said her poll workers were exhausted after counting Charlotte's 1,668 ballots by hand. She did not want to waste their time by having then stand around at CVU.

"I'm so sick and tired of this," she said. "They told us we couldn't send anyone but members of the Board of Civil Authority. They are consistently rude to us."

Lenes said she was unaware of the hard feelings.

"If someone feels they were treated rudely, they need to say so," she said.

But Lenes also insisted that Vermont law permits only Board of Civil Authority members to count votes.

The statute is unclear on the issue, said Kathy DeWolfe, director of elections for the Vermont Secretary of State. A section governing union school budget votes requires counters to be members of the board, she said, but another section controlling general voting procedures is less stringent about who participates.

In any case, election workers at CVU continued to feed ballots into the vote-counting machines until about 2,000 remained, Lenes said. Then one of the two functioning machines stopped working. After consulting with Shelburne's town clerk, Lenes decided shortly after midnight to finish the next day.

"We were very concerned about the weather and people getting home safely," she said.

The count resumed at about 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday. It was finished at 2 p.m.

It was not the first time there was a problem with the CVU vote. In 2001, Charlotte decided to cancel its vote when a snowstorm made travel treacherous. But the other towns did vote, and the situation created a controversy about whether everyone would have to vote again. Charlotte residents ended up voting the following week, and those ballots were added to the other towns' previous tallies.

Beckett said it is important to obtain timely results. There are deadlines for people to demand recounts, and candidates are supposed to take office immediately.

But DeWolfe said those are non-issues because residents have 10 days to ask for a recount and incumbents continue to serve until a new person is elected. What is important, she said, is that the count is correct.

"I think what matters is accurate results," DeWolfe said. "So if someone felt they were unable to complete the vote count that night and all the ballots were locked away before they left, then it was better to wait."

Vote results

Here are the tallies for the CVU votes:

$20.7 million budget

Yes: 6,373   No: 3,119

School bus funding

Yes: 6,357   No: 3,120

Capital project funding

Yes: 6,302   No: 3,166

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