July 23, 2019


Feb. 26, 2009

Last week’s Observer provided incorrect information about the birth of Silvia Kate Walker in the “Milestones” section. Silvia Kate was born to Ronald and Maria Walker of Bloomington, Ind., and was not born at Fletcher Allen Health Care. Grandparents are Louis and Carol Izzo of Williston.


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Planning Office undergoing renovations2/26/09

Feb. 26, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Residents entering the planning and zoning office will notice some changes in the coming weeks.

In an effort to expand the office and make it easier for the public to research plans, a new reception area is being created, Planning  Director Ken Belliveau said. The renovations aim to make the office more accessible to the public, he added.

The office, located on the first floor of the Town Hall Annex, used to house the Williston Police Department. Now, the former police reception area will become the planning office’s reception area. Planning Technician Carol Daigle will move her desk into the new, refurbished room, which will be the first office someone sees upon entering the building.

Belliveau said if it worked for the police, it could work for the Planning Department.

“Why not have our reception over here,” Belliveau said.

To connect the new reception area with the rest of the office, town workers this weekend blasted a new door through a wall that had been built up with granite and brick. The workers are actually creating a door where one used to exist. Much of the planning office is located in a building extension from the 1950s, Public Works Director Neil Boyden said. When the extension was built, the old door was boarded up.

“It was a door, then it wasn’t a door, and now it’s a door again,” Boyden said.

Daigle’s former desk, in what used to be the reception room for the planning office, will hold one to two desks for the public, developers and paralegals to do research on the town’s development projects.

Belliveau said the public currently only has a few places, including a large conference room, to review documents and plans in the office. When that room is in use, there is hardly any space for the public, he said.

Belliveau said the existing entrance to the Planning Office will soon be locked and closed off, making Daigle’s reception area the only way to get into the office.

Belliveau said there is $20,000 available for the project in a construction fund that became available this year. Boyden said the cost of the renovations would most likely be $6,000 to $7,00 — a high estimate, in his opinion.

Boyden said there are also plans to create another office near the main conference room, but that won’t happen right away.

“We don’t really have the need for it yet, but it does give us the flexibility for an office,” Boyden said.

Belliveau also wants the office’s windows replaced in the near future to maximize energy efficiency in the building.


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Review Board rejects permit for proposed park2/26/09

Wants other school projects completed first

Feb. 26, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Development Review Board denied a pre-application permit for a proposed recreation park that would be built adjacent to Allen Brook School.

In the 4-1 decision, issued at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board said it needed more details from the school administration in regards to its master plan for the school’s temporary classrooms. A permit allowing the classrooms expires next year.

Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said Wednesday he was “very surprised” by the board’s decision. He said his department had planned to begin working on the fields by spring or summer, but now that the pre-application had been denied — and subsequently, the Act 250 environmental permitting process can’t go forward — plans are again uncertain.

“They’re not going to allow us to move until the school gets nailed down with what it’s doing,” Finnegan said.

The town’s Recreation Department and school system are listed as co-applicants for the project, since some of the park would be located on school property. Members of the town staff and recreation committee, including Finnegan and Public Works Director Neil Boyden, attended Tuesday’s meeting, along with the park’s engineer, Doug Henson of architectural firm Lamoureux-Dickinson. No school officials were present.

The school administration is putting together a master plan to decide what to do with Allen Brook’s modular classrooms; a temporary building permit for the trailers expires in February 2010. At a Development Review Board meeting in January, the School Board and administration said they could make the modular rooms a permanent structure, but the board questioned the best location. Also, school officials have hinted that funding for an expansion of Allen Brook School could come from federal stimulus money.

Development Review Board Chairman Kevin McDermott said at Tuesday’s meeting the school was already late in submitting its master plan, and he wanted the plan finalized before moving forward with other projects, including the park. He also said the classrooms were more important than new recreation fields at this time.

“It seems strange to approve the least important piece,” McDermott said. “It’s approving the icing on the cake before approving the cake, so to speak.”

District Principal Walter Nardelli said Wednesday the administration was working with architects on plans to either make the modular classrooms permanent or build a smaller extension than what is currently designed. He said he has not received an update about the stimulus money.

“We’re actually moving in two different directions to see what would be cost-effective,” Nardelli said, adding officials would return to the Development Review Board this summer with a more detailed master plan.

Finnegan said the park plans accommodate the possible movement of the Allen Brook trailers or the possibility of a school expansion. He said he didn’t fully understand the board’s decision, unless it wanted to send a message to the school.

“Whatever they (the school) come up with in their master plan, our plans aren’t going to change,” Finnegan said after the meeting.

Sorting out parking

Plans for the park include new recreation, baseball, soccer and lacrosse fields, as well as new basketball and tennis courts. A road, with limited parking spaces alongside it, would access the fields. Finnegan said the new fields were necessary to reduce strain on the recreation fields at Williston Community Park.

In denying the pre-application, the Development Review Board also expressed concern over parking.

“What are you guys doing with 20 spaces?” board member Scott Rieley asked. “You’ll need 200. You’re not even close.”

Henson and Boyden told the board there was ample parking at Allen Brook School and that conditions of the property’s use limit impervious surfaces such as pavement. People would be able to park at the school and walk to fields, they said.

Rieley and McDermott said the parking situation at the community park, adjacent to Williston Central School, should be seen as an example of too few spaces. McDermott said cars routinely park all over the grass near Williston Central School during busy times, and he could foresee the same thing happening at Allen Brook.

“I want to see this get done,” Rieley said. “We need it. But you’re setting this up to fail the way it’s drawn.”


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Comcast and RETN reach temporary funding solution2/26/09

Feb. 26, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Cable customers in the Champlain Valley will continue to receive broadcasts of School Board meetings and other educational coverage on channel 16 for the short term, although an unresolved contract dispute leaves an uncertain future for the station.

The Regional Educational Technology Network, known as RETN, has been at odds with Comcast — the nation’s largest cable television provider — over RETN’s bookkeeping practices and financial reports. In November 2007, Comcast did not renew its contract with RETN South and has since asked Vermont’s Public Service Board to suspend its contract with RETN North.

The two parties met with the board on Monday in Montpelier for a pre-hearing on how litigation might develop.

RETN South comprises Charlotte, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Vergennes, while RETN North covers Burlington, Essex Junction, Essex Town, South Burlington, St. George, Williston, Winooski and a small part of Colchester.

Monday’s meeting with the Vermont Public Service Board was a pre-hearing regarding the contract disputes between Comcast and RETN, but also served as a time for both parties to agree on an interim funding agreement that will allow channel 16 to continue operating. Comcast funds much of RETN’s programming, paid for through cable subscriptions. By law, Comcast has to allocate some of its programming for local content. The company is still paying RETN South based on its old contract.

The interim agreement would have Comcast pay half of the $500,000 it had allotted for RETN for 2009, with the rest of the money coming in quarterly payments later in the year pending the results of an audit. With approval from RETN, Comcast is scheduling and paying for an audit of the station’s capital budget and business expenses.

“The agreement is a temporary solution while the audit is going on,” Comcast’s Community and Public Relations Senior Director Kristen Roberts said Tuesday.

Comcast saw this as a step in the right direction in regards to the dispute.

“We’re very encouraged to see positive steps being taken, and the audit will continue along that path,” said Comcast’s lawyer, William Dodge of Burlington-based Downs Rachlin Martin.

RETN’s representatives, which included the station’s executive director Scott Campitelli, public relations associate Doug Dunbebin and lawyer Doug Marden of Burlington-based Little & Cicchetti, were not pleased with some of the interim measures, but agreed to them on the principle they would be temporary. Of particular concern were demands that RETN must seek Comcast’s approval for any capital expenditure over $4,000 and must provide bank statements and monthly reports in a timely fashion.

Dunbebin said after the hearing that any decisions on capital expenditures should be signed off with RETN’s Board of Directors, not Comcast. He said these changes usurped the authority of the board, which consists of residents from the towns served by RETN.

“They’re an outside organization and should not approve or disapprove a capital expenditure,” Dunbebin said. “However, we have agreed to these significant, but temporary concessions to ensure the important services we provide the community continue uninterrupted while this process moves forward.”

The interim agreement was scheduled to be submitted to the Public Service Board by Friday, after a few minor changes were made.

The pre-hearing came about after Comcast filed its petition with the Public Service Board to suspend the contract with RETN North. Comcast charged that RETN had inconsistent and incomplete accounting reports and was frequently late with documents requested by the cable company. The questionable accounting practices breached the RETN North agreement with Comcast, the cable company said in its petition. The contract ends in 2011.

RETN countered that it had worked with Comcast and improved its accounting and bookkeeping procedures starting last year. The local station also denied many of Comcast’s claims about incomplete and inconsistent reports. It also said staff members did not receive detailed instructions on what Comcast wanted to see for financial restructuring.

“The measures proposed/requested by Comcast are draconian, expensive and unnecessary,” RETN’s counter-statement reads.

Marden told the Public Service Board that RETN would be filing its own petition against Comcast in regards to a breach of contract, although Dodge and members of the board believed it would be best to wait until the results of the audit were completed.

“We want to keep pressure on Comcast to get the contract negotiations going,” Marden explained.

Dodge said the audit would likely be completed by May, when a status conference could be scheduled with the Public Service Board. Dodge said the outcome of the audit would determine if RETN has other financial issues about which Comcast should know.

“Until the audit, we don’t know what our next step will be,” Roberts said.


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Scaled-back budgets on the ballot2/26/09

Cuts made in hopes of winning approval

Feb. 26, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Voters will decide on Tuesday if downsized town and school budgets represent a big enough shared sacrifice during a severe recession.

The March 3 ballot will include Williston’s municipal budget as well as budgets for the Williston School District and Champlain Valley Union High School. Combined, the budgets account for $45 million in tax money.

The annual Town Meeting will be held Monday night, but voting will take place only on minor procedural items. Town Clerk Deb Beckett said the session, which starts a half-hour earlier than usual at 7 p.m., will mainly give voters a chance to learn more about school and town budgets. There will be detailed presentations on each spending plan and a chance to ask questions.

Town and school officials have focused on paring spending amid the economic downturn. With unemployment rising, tax revenue falling and many residents worried about their economic future, elected officials have repeatedly said they are trying to share the pain.

Spending rises only slightly in each of the school budgets. Municipal spending is down by a fraction of a percentage point in the proposed town budget.

The bottom line is that Williston residents may see a slight property tax rate decrease, with the municipal tax rate remaining at 20 cents per $100 in valuation and the school tax rate expected to drop by 3 cents to $1.30. Combined, that would produce an annual savings of $90 for the owner of a $300,000 home.

However, tax rates are estimates subject to change. The town does not set the municipal tax rate until June. The school tax rate depends on the statewide education funding rate, which has yet to be set by the Legislature.

The trend of steadily rising school and municipal spending is reversed in each of the proposed budgets. Last year’s municipal budget hiked spending by 5 percent, while the Williston School District budget rose 3.7 percent and the CVU budget jumped 4.7 percent.

The Williston School Board increased this year’s budget by just 0.3 percent. The $16.3 million spending plan adds only $49,000 to the current year’s budget.

The board was able to all but freeze spending despite increases in fixed costs, such as raises required by the teachers’ contract. Several positions were cut, including one upper house classroom teacher, one teaching assistant and two paraeducator positions. District Principal Walter Nardelli has said the positions will be cut through attrition and no staff members will be laid off.

The board was also pushed to be thrifty by Act 82, a state law enacted last year that requires school budgets that increase by more than a preset amount to be voted on twice by residents. Early in the budget process, the board learned that it had to cut $325,000 from its baseline to avoid the two-vote requirement.

At Champlain Valley Union High School, the proposed 2009-2010 budget totals $21 million. That represents a 1.5 percent increase over current spending and is also under the two-vote threshold.

The budget hike, however, won’t translate into an increase in property taxes. The CVU School Board used $70,000 in budget reserves to offset the small spending hike.

Voters will be asked to approve the use of budget reserves and unspent money from a 2003 construction bond to repair CVU’s roof and upgrade the auditorium. Neither move is expected to have an impact on tax rates.

Also on the ballot will be separate votes on funding for new school buses, one each for the Williston School District and CVU. Each will cost $105,000.

Champlain Valley Union High School draws students from Williston, Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg. Operating costs are apportioned based on the percentage of students drawn from each town. Budget votes in each town are aggregated to produce the final tally.

The Williston School District also wants to use budget reserves, or fund balance, to reduce taxes. It is asking voters to approve the use of $150,000 in reserves. And the district is seeking $200,000 to replace an elevator.

The economy was also a factor in the Williston municipal budget. The $7.6 million spending plan represents a fraction of a percentage point decrease in spending and keeps the municipal property tax rate at 20 cents per $100 of valuation.

Town Manager Rick McGuire originally proposed a $7.8 million budget in early December that would have boosted spending by 3 percent and increased the property tax rate by 2 cents.

But Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs urged the board to rein in spending to show solidarity with struggling taxpayers. His proposal to produce a level-funded budget won support among fellow board members.

The town reduced spending without laying off employees or eliminating money set aside for raises. Funding was instead cut for long-term projects such as a new public works garage and by using $500,000 of the town’s $1.3 million budget reserve.

Residents will see little or no change in services when the new fiscal year starts on July 1. But McGuire told the Observer last month that the budget cushion is now so thin that further deterioration of the economy could leave the Selectboard little choice but to hike property taxes next year.

Reporter Tim Simard contributed to this story.


On the agenda

Town Meeting will be held Monday, March 2. The session starts at 7 p.m. in the Williston Central School auditorium.

Voting for candidates and budgets takes place on Tuesday, March 3 at the Williston Armory. Polls are open between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Parking is available behind Town Hall.

Annual town reports are available at Town Hall and Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. A summary of the report, as well as information about Williston and CVU school budgets, was inserted into this week’s Williston Observer.

Absentee ballots can be cast at Town Hall until Monday at 5 p.m. Voters can also pick up ballots, but only for themselves. Ballots will be mailed upon request through Friday. Call 878-5121 to request one.


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Psyched to trike2/26/09

    Observer photo by Pogo Senior
Champlain Valley Union High student Wes O’Brien, one of 25 racers representing the senior class at the school’s annual winter carnival on Friday, leads the pack going down the back stretch of the tricycle race. The seniors won the race. More photos under web exclusive photos.

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Selectboard race offers stark choice of candidates2/26/09

Two candidates seek two-year seat

Feb. 26, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

It’s hard to imagine two candidates more different than Ted Kenney and Shelley Palmer.


Ted Kenney


Shelley Palmer

Kenney is a defense attorney who speaks passionately about constitutional rights. He describes himself as a moderate Democrat.

Palmer is a heavy equipment operator and a former bail bondsman. He is an unapologetic conservative who has been active in the Republican Party.

The men face off for a two-year term on the Selectboard in Tuesday’s election. It is the only contested race on the ballot, which will include several other candidates running unopposed as well as votes on school and municipal budgets.

Kenney, 44, was born and grew up in Richmond. He graduated from St. Michael’s College and received his law degree from American University in Washington, D.C.

Kenney has been a Williston resident for a decade. He is married to Lucy Miller. The couple has two children and lives on Lawnwood Drive.

Kenney served for about two years on the Williston Planning Commission and was elected to a two-year term on the Williston School Board. He was first elected to the Selectboard in 2005 and re-elected in 2007.

He unsuccessfully ran for Chittenden County state’s attorney in 2006. Kenney was defeated in the Democratic primary by T.J. Donovan, who went on to win the general election.

Palmer, 52, was born in Rochester, N.Y. He attended college in Quebec.

Palmer has worked as a truck driver, a school bus driver and a law enforcement officer. He is currently on a seasonal layoff from Williston-based Engineers Construction Inc.

He and his wife, Dianna, have three children. Palmer has lived in Williston since 1995 and currently resides on North Williston Road.

Palmer served as high bailiff on the Board of Adjustment in Grand Isle County. He was elected to a one-year term as town grand juror in Williston in 2004. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Vermont House of Representatives in 2004 and again last year.

Palmer has served as a county delegate to the state Republican party and was once a delegate at the party’s national convention.

Palmer got into legal trouble while working as a bail bondsman. In 1997, he was convicted of misdemeanor simple assault after he was accused of pointing a gun at a customer who showed up at his house at night, according to court records. He was given a four-to-12 month suspended sentence and was required to perform community service.

Palmer pleaded not guilty to the charge and has continued to maintain his innocence. He has said he had a gun in his hand but never pointed it at the man.

During a debate aired earlier this month on CCTV, cable access Channel 17, Palmer emphasized his differences with Kenney. But at one point, Palmer complained that Kenney was hard to criticize because he was a fiscal conservative. Kenney replied that he was not a conservative but did believe in prudently spending tax money.

In an interview at the Observer’s offices last week, Palmer emphasized his blue-collar credentials, saying it gave him a real-world perspective lacking in someone who makes as much money as a lawyer.

“I’m the new face, the guy who works for a living who can represent the average person,” he said.

Kenney bristled at Palmer’s suggestion that he is out of touch with residents of more modest means. He said he worked while attending college and that he mowed lawns to buy school clothes while growing up in a family of eight children. He worked at a restaurant, a lumber yard and a Mobil gas station.

“I remember sitting in high school with calluses on my hands and dirt from working at the gas station that I couldn’t scrape off,” he said.

The candidates’ political and occupational differences may have little impact on the nonpartisan Selectboard, which in recent years has dealt mainly with the minutiae of municipal government. But their views may shape spending, land-use policy and other issues that impact Williston residents.

Here are excerpts from their interviews:

What is the single most important problem facing the town, and how would you fix it?

Kenney: “The most important issue facing the town is the long-term sustainability of our town budget. The things the town spends money on are very hard to control and all of them seem to be increasing in cost at a rate that is faster than the rate of inflation.”

For example, Kenney cited rising gasoline costs that have driven up the cost of operating snowplows and fueling police cars. He said the town must hold down expenses until the economy improves.

“The Selectboard’s job is to say yes or no to issues, but mostly no. Which is sad. I would love to see a whole bunch of things happening in town if we could afford it.”

Palmer: “I think that facilitating growth is important and I think that keeping costs, i.e. taxes, low or lower is paramount.”

Palmer said with taxpayers’ wages decreasing, even a level-funded budget amounts to an increase in real terms.

“We all love services but I don’t think we can afford what we have.”

If the economy gets worse and the town faces a budget shortfall, what would you cut?

Kenney: “I don’t know. There’s no easy answer.”

He said one place he would reluctantly consider cutting was money in the capital budget set aside for long-term expenditures and replacement of aging equipment.

Palmer: “I’d start across the board.”

He added that “there’s no particular pet peeve” with a specific expenditure, but noted the town library is one of the nicest in Chittenden County and the spacious police station provides “a sunlight-drenched area” where officers can write reports.

Palmer said one way to keep spending in check would be to eliminate health care coverage for employees. He said the town should increase town workers’ pay by 12 percent and then make them buy their own insurance.

Is it a mistake for the town to rely so heavily on sales tax revenue, which has dropped considerably over the past two years? How can the town replace revenue it has lost?

Kenney: “I don’t think it’s a mistake to rely on the sales tax like we’ve been doing. We’ve done a pretty good job of scaling back spending when receipts went lower.”

When the economy improves, Kenney said he would like to see a portion of sales tax revenue put into a rainy day fund or set aside for long-term projects.

“When it starts going back up we should act like the family where one of the parents gets a raise but instead of increasing their standard of living they put the money away into a savings account.”

Palmer: “I think that taking money from people is inherently wrong. Taxes should be a necessity, not a perk, if you will. The implementation of the sales tax reduced Williston’s attractiveness to business.”

“Yes, it’s nice to make someone else pay. It may be popular, but it isn’t right.”

He compared the sales tax to an addictive drug — once the government gets used to having additional revenue, it finds it hard to quit spending. He said if sales tax proceeds continue to decrease, the town needs to learn to live with less and cut spending, not find a way to replace the revenue.

Williston enjoys substantial revenue from hosting the state’s largest commercial base. Yet the town offers no indoor recreational facilities or a community center like neighboring towns. Is it time for Williston to build one of these facilities?

Kenney: “I don’t think it’s time now for the town to increase the debt it services. I don’t think we should be looking for ways to spend additional money when we are not funding the necessary nuts and bolts stuff the town should be doing.”

He gave as examples a new public works facility, which had its funding deleted from this year’s capital budget. Kenney said he might support the idea of building a community center that would also include recreational space when the economy rebounds.

Palmer: “You can’t have a recreational facility without a tax base, so I think you are looking at this upside down. If we could attract more revenue, I think it would be more likely that we could keep up with the Joneses.”

He said Williston has a nicer police station than other communities, for example, but that doesn’t automatically mean other towns should build a new facility.

“When one town has more or less, then other ones think they are entitled. Having a fancier municipal recreational thing is nice, but a lot of this stuff is overkill.”


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Redhawk Nordic teams skating toward states2/19/09

Feb. 19, 2009

With state meets coming up the first week in March, the Champlain Valley Union High ski teams posted second (boys) and third (girls) last Friday in competition among eight schools at Bolton Valley Resort.

John Dixon was the prime mover for the Redhawks, posting a 14-second victory over Burlington High’s Ben Lustgarten in the boys division. Tabor deGroot took 10th, giving CVU its second finisher among the leaders.

In team scorers, CVU boys were runners-up to U-32 of East Montpelier.

The girls came in third among their division’s teams, with Burlington High and Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans taking the top two slots.

CVU’s Annie Jackson was fifth, Anya Rose seventh and Laura Jackson eighth.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Girls alpine team captures first in slalom2/19/09

Feb. 19, 2009

With the district and state meets making for a busy schedule the next two weeks, the Champlain Valley Union High alpine ski teams took part in a two-run slalom event last Thursday at Stowe Mountain Resort — with the girls scoring a resounding team victory over 10 other squads.

The boys took fifth in their division without a finisher in the top 10.

Allie Maynes led the CVU girls with a third place finish. Cassie Smith followed in fourth place in the two-run combined times.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Fifth-seeded girls hockey team opens playoffs Saturday2/19/09

Feb. 19, 2009

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

With their 10-8-2 record good for fifth seed in the upcoming Division 1 hockey playoffs, the Champlain Valley Union High girls hockey team will travel north Saturday to St. Albans. The Redhawks have a 6:30 p.m. matchup with fourth-seeded Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans at Collins-Perley Arena.

The Comets finished 12-6-2 to earn fourth seed and the quarterfinal home ice advantage. Winner of the contest will head to the semifinals on Feb. 23 at Norwich University’s Kreitzberg Arena.

CVU will need to think December and not February when it takes to the ice Saturday. On Dec. 20, the Redhawks motored to the one-time Railroad City and came away with a 3-3 tie. But two weeks ago, the Comets came to the Hawks’ home ice at Cairns Arena and administered a 5-0 licking, CVU’s biggest ouch of the season.

But since that loss, the Redhawks recovered nicely in the final three games, all on the road. Coach Tom Ryan’s skaters whacked Middlebury 10-4, zipped past Stowe High 3-0 and then bowed to top-seeded Spaulding High 2-1 last Saturday in Barre. It was CVU’s second 2-1 loss to the 15-2-2 Tide.

Second seed went to 15-4-1 South Burlington High. The Redhawks have a tie and early 4-2 loss to the Rebels.

Essex High, 15-4-1, captured the third seed.

In giving the top seed-to-be some on ice grief Saturday, the Redhawks fell behind 2-0 midway through the third period before pulling to within a point on Amanda Armell’s 14th goal of the season, on a power play.

The Hawks were then unable to put home a tying goal, despite out-shooting the Tide, 21-19. Nicole Bonneau came up with 17 stops in the CVU cage.


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