October 2, 2014

Williston man sentenced to six years3/19/09

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March 19, 2009

A Williston man has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars from a captive insurance company where he was a senior vice president.

Federal prosecutors say Kenneth MacKay, 37, admitted that he came up with a scheme to defraud Willis Management and others of $5 million.

He used the money to build a $1.9 million home, pay about $240,000 into college tuition savings plans for his five children, and buy a condominium in Florida.

At the March 10 sentencing, Chief Justice William Sessions III ordered him to pay $5.3 million in restitution. Prosecutors say MacKay has already forfeited $4.24 million, including the college fund, home and condo.

— The Associated Press

 

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Douglas announces community block grant3/19/09

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March 19, 2009

Gov. Jim Douglas visited Williston on Tuesday to announce a $360,000 community development block grant that will fund housing rehabilitation projects throughout the region.

The town of Williston applied for the grant on behalf of the Champlain Housing Trust, David Mace, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said in an e-mail. The funding will be sub-granted to the Champlain Housing Loan Fund, allowing it to continue providing loans to residents whose homes need repairs.

A media release from the governor’s office said the town of Williston would receive the grant. But the money will in fact be used to provide loans to eligible home-owners throughout Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, Mace said. The exception is Burlington, which has its own block grant.

Low-to-moderate income home-owners who cannot afford or qualify for a conventional loan are eligible to participate in the program. Low-interest loans can pay to repair or weatherize homes, remove lead-based paint and make homes handicapped-accessible. Mace said loans can also be used to provide counseling services for applicants.

The Champlain Housing Loan Fund is one is one of five regional loan funds in Vermont, according to information the Champlain Housing Trust provided to the town. It was established in 1997 and has loaned more than $2 million over the past 11 years.

— Greg Elias, Observer staff

 

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House committee passes Williston charter bill3/19/09

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Other proposals face uncertain future

March 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Legislation that gives Vermont companies a leg up when bidding on state contracts is “dead in the water,” but other bills prohibiting a chemical used to treat public water supplies and allowing Williston to make charter changes live on.

 


    File photo
Jim McCullough  

So says Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, who sponsored or co-sponsored each of the bills. He serves in the Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources Committee.

H. 164 would have provided preferential treatment for Vermont firms seeking state contracts. Under the proposal, local companies would win the contract unless an out-of-state firm submitted a bid at least 20 percent lower.

The proposal received a single hearing in the House Government Operations Committee. McCullough said a representative from the Vermont Agency of Transportation testified that the bill was problematic because the federal government, which provides at least partial funding for many contracted projects, views such restrictions as a restraint on interstate trade. There were also worries that the bill would drive up costs.

McCullough said he suggested the bill could be amended to say preferences for local contractors could be overruled by state and federal laws. But that idea failed to gain traction.

“That bill is dead in the water,” McCullough said.

Committee chairwoman Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, concurred.

“It probably won’t make it out of committee this year,” she said.

Two other laws proposed by McCullough have a brighter future.

H. 31, which was co-sponsored by Democrat Terry Macaig, Williston’s other representative in the House, would permit the town to make minor changes to its charter. McCullough and other lawmakers say legislative approval is almost certain.

One change would allow the town manager to hire and fire the zoning administrator. Under state law, the zoning administrator is nominated by the Planning Commission and appointed by the Selectboard to a three-year term.

The change was sought after former zoning administrator D.K. Johnston was charged with stalking and disturbing the peace. Police alleged that he sent dozens of harassing e-mails to a real estate agent who had sold him a condominium. Johnston could not be fired because he had been appointed to the fixed term.

The second change involves a single word in the statute that regulates agreements between municipalities and solid waste processors. The law states that solid waste facilities “may” enter into contracts that provide compensatory payments to towns. The charter change alters that language to say solid waste processors “shall” enter into a contract with the town.

Town Manager Rick McGuire had sought the language revision, saying it would give Williston more clout in future negotiations with solid waste companies.

The charter changes have already been passed by the House Government Operations Committee. The bill is now being considered in the Senate, where it is expected to easily make it out of committee.

“My feeling about charter changes is that unless there is some constitutional issue … we’re just going to ratify them,” said Jeanette White, D-Putney, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “It’s not my place to second-guess local voters.”

Williston voters approved the charter changes by more than a 5-1 margin last November.

The final bill introduced by McCullough addresses long-standing concerns about water treatment procedures in the Champlain Water District, which serves Williston and other area communities. In 2006, the district began using chloramine as a secondary disinfectant.

Since then, a small percentage of the district’s users have complained that the chemical has caused health problems ranging from swollen or itchy rashes to respiratory problems that include coughing or wheezing.

The Vermont Health Department has concluded the chloramine poses no public health threat. But McCullough said in every case symptoms vanished when users stopped drinking and bathing in the water.

His bill, H. 80, imposes a two-year moratorium on use of chloramine in public water supplies.

The idea, McCullough said, is to require water systems to study alternative treatment methods in advance of the release of new federal standards in 2012, “and to give people suffering from this a two-year vacation from the pain.”

McCullough said he has the votes to pass the bill out of his nine-member committee and expects to receive support in the Senate.

He noted that a bill establishing a group to study the issue was approved in the previous legislative session and won support from virtually all lawmakers whose constituents are served by the Champlain Water District.

The study group met throughout the summer but took no action, McCullough said. He hopes the current legislation will prompt lawmakers to act on the health concerns surrounding chloramine, which is used in other Vermont public water systems.

 

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Food Shelf wants to stop student hunger during summer3/19/09

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March 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston Community Food Shelf is looking for creative ways to prevent school-aged students from going hungry this summer.

 


    Courtesy photo b y Lesli Blount
Williston Community Food Shelf volunteer John Davis checks the expiration dates on recent donations. The Food Shelf is exploring ways to provide hungry students with food during school vacation periods. 

Organizers at the local food pantry, located in Maple Tree Place, are brainstorming ways to feed students who normally receive free or reduced price lunch while school is in session, but have that service interrupted during school vacations.

Jill Lang, the Food Shelf’s president, said families struggling with finances take on an extra burden over the summer and during extended school vacations. These families must find a way to feed their children lunches — and sometimes breakfasts — normally provided by the schools.

“We’ve been wanting to do a program like this from the beginning,” Lang said.

State and federal funds help pay for students who receive free or reduced price lunch. Parents must apply to the school to determine eligibility for the lunch program.

Lang said more planning is needed to figure out how the program will work and how to get the word out to certain families. Lang said the Food Shelf might provide a letter for the school to mail to the appropriate parties detailing the new program. Families would then be able to visit the Food Shelf with the letter and get the needed supplies.

The program may also bring people to the Food Shelf that haven’t yet visited and need help, Lang added.

Members of the Food Shelf are also considering a “backpack” program for students. Jeanne Jensen, vice president and treasurer of the food shelf, said it might be possible to send students home with a backpack full of food twice a week during a summer camp.

The Vermont Foodbank, a nonprofit organization that supplies goods to food shelves, has a similar program for students during the school year. The program gives students food to take home on Friday so they can eat over the weekend.

Jensen and Lang said it’s still too early to know exactly how the program will work.

“We’re just at the planning stages right now,” Jensen said.

Either way, Lang said the program will focus on summer and other seasonal vacations, and would end when school begins again. She said she hopes to have a program up and running by the time the school year ends in June.

FOOD SHELF EXTENDS LEASE AT MAPLE TREE PLACE

The Williston Community Food Shelf signed a contract this month to keep its location at Maple Tree Place until the end of December. Inland U.S. Management, the owner of Maple Tree Place, has provided a free space for the Food Shelf since it opened in November 2008. The Food Shelf is located on Connor Way, in the block above Ben & Jerry’s and Asian Bistro.

While rent for the food pantry will remain free, the organization will have to pay $250 per month for utilities. Food Shelf President Jill Lang said the added cost was reasonable.

“We’re very thankful,” Lang said. “They’ve been very nice about the whole thing.”

Lang said the Food Shelf is no longer looking at purchasing a house for sale in the Village, but she said she’s still searching for permanent options. When the lease at Maple Tree Place ends in December, she hopes Inland will be able to renew another contract for 2010.

“I can’t foresee them kicking us out in December,” Lang said.

— Tim Simard, Observer staff

 

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In search of amphibians3/19/09

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CVU student travels the world researching frogs

March 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In the hot and humid heat of South America, amongst the wild sounds of the jungle, Nicolas Arms said he feels right at home. Especially when creeping through the rain forest at night, flashlight in hand, looking for elusive tree frogs sitting on leaves and branches and listening for their familiar calls.

 


    Courtesy photo
Nicolas Arms, a Champlain Valley Union High senior from Williston, holds a rainbow boa while visiting the Peruvian rain forest in January. Arms spent a month cataloguing amphibians in a recently established forest reserve in the South American country. On Wednesday evening, Arms will present a photo-lecture of his studies at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.  

 


    Courtesy photo
Nicolas Arms photographed the above tree frog, Hypsiboas geographicus, while cataloguing amphibians in Peru.  

“It’s a lot different than what you’d be doing in a forest in Vermont,” admits Arms, whose focus of study is on tropical amphibians.

The Williston resident and Champlain Valley Union High School senior spent four weeks in the Peruvian rain forest earlier this year, cataloguing and photographing amphibian diversity in the country’s recently established Santa Cruz Forest Reserve. On Wednesday, Arms will give a detailed presentation — including slides of some of his photographs — at 7 p.m. at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston.

Working with the nonprofit organization Project Amazonas, Arms joined scientists from around the country and students at the University of the Peruvian Amazon to learn about the biological wonders in this recently preserved tract of jungle.

“Basically, nothing was really known about Santa Cruz,” Arms said.

Some of the information Arms unearthed was startling, he said. He said he discovered several amphibians and frogs living in Santa Cruz that were believed to not exist in the remote corner of northeastern Peru. He also catalogued and photographed a few frogs that weren’t readily identifiable, though Arms wouldn’t go as far as saying he discovered a new species.

This wasn’t the first time the high school biologist has traveled outside the United States to study amphibians. Last year, he accompanied his classmates on a biology trip to Costa Rica, and he’s studied and photographed frogs in the rain forests of Australia. Some of his excursions were paid for through grants, nearly all of which he applied for on his own. He was awarded an Experimental Sciences Research Grant from the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and Youth Activity Fund grant from The Explorers Club in 2008.

“One thing just leads to another,” Arms said.

His photography skills have also earned him accolades. He was a semifinalist last year in the Youth Photography Contest sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corporation. For Arms, photography came naturally. He wanted a record of the animals he catalogued, which led to his interest in nature photography.

Arms’ love of frogs and photography began at a young age, when he was pulling up logs and underbrush in Vermont searching for critters. He said he used to keep snakes and frogs as pets and soon became interested in the science behind the animals. He credits CVU science teachers Dave Ely and Ken Martin for helping steer him in the right direction and earn important grants.

He also credits state herpetologist and amphibian expert Jim Andrews in becoming, in many ways, a mentor.

Andrews said Arms’ enthusiasm and knowledge would lead him on a career path where he will excel. Andrews said he’s impressed with Arms’ ability to network with leading amphibian biologists around the world.

“Nick is clearly a bright and capable and interested student,” Andrews said. “He’s got amazing self confidence.”

Arms, whose ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D. in biology, hopes to continue his research by enrolling in a college or university specializing in amphibian research. He’s looking at colleges in the United States, but he’s also interested in a university in Australia near that country’s rain forests.

“I have to think about it, but I’ll probably end up there,” he said.

And Arms hopes to continue his travels in South America this summer. He’s looking at joining a biology expedition to the mountains of Colombia.

Arms said his work in Peru was vitally important and will continue to be so. Frog populations around the world are declining due to disease and climate change, he said. Also, much of the land surrounding the Peruvian forest reserve is not protected and could be cut down for farming and logging. Essentially, Santa Cruz could become an island of rainforest in a changing world, he said.

“It’ll be interesting to see what species will be left,” Arms said.

 

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Williston Fire Dept. serving parts of Richmond3/19/09

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Bridge closure boosts need for mutual aid

March 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With the Bridge Street Bridge in Richmond under construction and out of commission until June, the Richmond Fire Department is turning to its neighbors for help in emergency response. The Williston Fire Department, along with fire departments from Huntington and Hinesburg, will be the primary first responders to portions of Richmond not easily reached by that town’s fire crews.

 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Work on the Bridge Street bridge in Richmond has closed the roadway to traffic. As a result, the Williston Fire Department is available as the first responder to certain parts of Richmond.

“That’s why it’s called ‘mutual aid,’” Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton said. “If there’s ever a problem, we help them out and vice versa.”

The Richmond Fire Department’s station is located on the north end of the town, just north of the Bridge Street Bridge at 357 East Main Street, and therefore cut off from many of the southern neighborhoods in Richmond. The closure of the Bridge Street Bridge, which spans the Winooski River, effectively restricts the Richmond Fire Department from easily accessing half of the town. The construction project is scheduled for completion on June 26.

To access southern Richmond, emergency responders must either drive through Williston’s South and East Hill roads or take the Jonesville Bridge several miles east of town, among other routes, said Richmond Fire Chief Tom Levesque.

Levesque said there is a fire engine in the Richmond town garage south of the bridge, but there are a limited number of volunteer firefighters living on that side of the town, which makes quick response unreliable.

Williston Fire Department will be the primary responder to 21 roads and neighborhoods in Richmond, including East Hill, Kenyon and Cochran roads. Hinesburg Fire Department will primarily handle Hinesburg Road, and Huntington Fire Department will cover the areas around Huntington and Hillview roads.

Morton explained that when a fire is called in, Shelburne Dispatch, which dispatches Richmond’s emergency calls, will automatically alert Williston Fire. Before the bridge closed, Richmond Fire had to directly contact Williston for mutual aid.

Morton said with most structural or brush fire incidents in Richmond in the past, Williston has been called to help. The fire department also handled fire calls during the Bridge Street Bridge’s interim closure late last year.

Richmond firefighters will still respond to all fire calls, even if they might not arrive first, Levesque said. With all non-fire emergency calls, the Richmond department will remain the primary responder, he added.

“Richmond will still respond as normal,” Levesque said.

Based on past calls Levesque expects Williston will need to respond perhaps twice this spring and early summer, although Morton believes his department may receive a call once a month.

Morton said his department is happy to help Richmond.

“Certainly every time we have a fire call here, they come and help us, so this is a great opportunity for us to turn around and help them out if there is a need,” Morton said.

 

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Swing your partner3/19/09

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    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
With Duncan Yandell playing the Cape Breton fiddle and his father, Dave Yandell, on keyboard, the audience at the 10th annual Families as Partners Variety Show breaks into spontaneous dance. The Variety Show was held at Williston Central School on Friday night.

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Group outlines community center plan3/19/09

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Funding uncertain for multi-million dollar building

March 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Imagine a town-owned facility where residents could go for a swim, attend a class or see a play. It would provide a venue for individuals to socialize and groups to meet, fostering a sense of civic togetherness sometimes missing in suburban Williston.

 


    Courtesy image
The above blueprint shows a possible floor plan for a Williston community center. Sharon Gutwin, leader of a group studying a long-discussed community center, presented the plan to the Selectboard last week.  

That was the vision detailed during last week’s Selectboard meeting by Sharon Gutwin, leader of a group studying a long-discussed community center. She gave a PowerPoint presentation and fielded questions from the board.

As outlined in a conceptual plan presented by Gutwin, the facility would include 13,500 square feet of interior space. It would feature a pair of pools, gym and classroom space and a meeting room accommodating 250 people.

The facility would cost an estimated $2 million to $3 million, not including land acquisition and site development. Annual costs for maintenance, utilities and insurance would run from $70,000 to $100,000.

Board members expressed muted support for the plan outlined by Gutwin.

“I think this would be a great thing to do,” Judy Sassorossi said. “I’m just a little puzzled … what steps can we take to lay the groundwork?”

Jeff Fehrs worried that the plan, with its fitness facility, would compete with existing health clubs.

“I’d be hesitant to have the town seen as stepping on the toes of the private sector,” he said.

Gutwin said the community center would attract people intimidated by private clubs, so it would complement rather than compete with businesses like Sports & Fitness Edge.

The group’s proposal marks the latest chapter in a long-running discussion of a community center in Williston. There appears to be widespread support for such a facility, but questions about funding and location remain.

A task force comprised of town officials and citizens compiled a report on the issue in 2007. After polling voters, holding a public hearing and conducting interviews, the task force found widespread support for a community center.

But paying for it would be problematic, the report concluded, saying residents are unlikely to support a property tax hike to build a multi-million dollar facility and pay for its staffing and upkeep.

That of course was before the current economic crisis set in. Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said in an interview the downturn may keep the community center on the shelf for now.

“I think there’s a need for it,” he said. “But the urgency at this point is numbed by the economic situation in the state and the town.”

Gutwin said in an interview that she and the other group members understand public money is tight these days. She thinks that donations or grants could at least provide seed money to construct the facility. The group’s conceptual plan calls for renting space to tenants to defray operating costs.

“What I know is there is no town money,” Gutwin said. “I’m just trying to be sensitive to the economic climate we are in. I don’t want to pressure the town to provide funding. What we’re really looking for is for people to donate money or their time to write grants.”

Once the financial ball is rolling, Gutwin said, “then it would be more appropriate” to ask for town funding.

Gutwin, owner of the RehabGym in Williston, is also exploring the chances of tapping into federal stimulus money. She said her research indicates that community centers are eligible to receive the funding.

The community center group grew out of WING, or Williston Into the Next Generation, a citizen initiative that is taking a multi-faceted look at how the town can become a more complete and cohesive community.

Group member Nancy Stone said the group met once or twice a month starting last summer and ending around the holidays.

Stone, a longtime art teacher who has lived in Williston since 1971, said a community center could provide instructional space that she and others could use for classes. But beyond that, she said she and others yearn for a central place where they can make community connections.

“As Williston kept growing and growing, I had (at one time) thought it’s not my town anymore,” Stone said. Having instructional space “is one part of it, but the other is I just want to have a sense of community.”

The Selectboard instructed Gut-win to work with Town Manager Rick McGuire to further explore funding sources and identify a location. Gutwin said the group concluded it should be located near Taft Corners.

Despite the uncertain prospects, Gutwin was upbeat about the prospects for a community center.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I think there’s a good chance for it, with or without the stimulus money, I believe there’s a passion for this to happen.”

 

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Bonneau helps team to all-star win3/12/09

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March 12, 2009

Senior Nicole Bonneau saw a lot of pucks coming her way during her four years in the Champlain Valley Union High hockey nets.

Last Saturday, it was a certain déjà vu, as the little net minder made 24 stops while sharing duties with Colchester High’s Brittany Rocheleau (21 saves) in helping their Austin Conference All-Star team to a 4-3 victory over the Harris Conference squad in the eighth annual Essex Rotary Key Bank Girls All Star Classic at the Essex rink.

The teams were made up of high school seniors nominated by their coach and ranked by their coach and all other coaches in their division.

Bonneau was the only player from CVU named to the All-Star team.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent

 

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Boys hockey stars in action on Saturday3/12/09

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March 12, 2009

Six senior members of the Division 1 champion Champlain Valley Union High hockey team will be skating for the Harris Conference on Saturday in the annual Essex Rotary Key Bank All Star Hockey Classic for men at the Essex rink.

Forwards Tin Reichert, Brady DeHayes, Sam Spencer and Ben Soll will be putting pressure on the Austin Conference defense, while defensemen Owen Smith and Chris Howard will be on the Harris blue line.

The CVU seniors will be teaming with players from Burlington High, Colchester High, Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans, Northfield High, Montpelier High and others.

Players are all high school seniors nominated by their coach and ranked by their coach and all the other coaches in their division.

Game time is 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and can be purchased at the door. Military family members are admitted free with proper identification.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent

 

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