November 28, 2014

Ride the dragon

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    Courtesy photo
Paddlers take part in last year’s Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival. A team from Champlain Valley Union High School has formed to row in this year’s festival, scheduled for Sunday. See story below.

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Sports Notes (7/30/09)

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July 30, 2009

Soccer tryouts

The Burlington Lakers Soccer Club will hold tryouts at 6 p.m. on Aug. 10 at Callahan Park in Burlington.

The soccer club is a premier girl’s travel club that was formed in 2001. This year, the club will field competitive travel teams for U13, U15 and U17.

Last year, the Burlington Lakers U16 girls won the 2009 State Cup, competing in the Region 1 National Championship. They came in second in their group. The U16 girls also won the South Coast Seaside Classic Tournament in Rhode Island.

The U14 Girls won the Suffield Tournament in Connecticut, and the U12 Team finished as runner-up state champions in the 2009 State Cup.

For more information, call 343-8887 or visit www.burlingtonlakers.com.

Jousting match turns painful for Vt. mayor

A Vermont mayor who agreed in fun to a jousting match with padded sticks and helmets ended up in the emergency room after he broke some ribs.

Sunday’s joust at a festival in Barre was a modern-day re-enactment of a fabled fistfight over the city’s naming. Mayor Thomas Lauzon and Jeff Blow, chairman of the town’s selectboard, teetered on padded pedestals in the middle of a ring as they wielded their jousting sticks.

The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus reports Blow toppled Lauzon in less than 15 seconds and the mayor returned the favor with a below-the-belt thrust.

In a deciding third match, Lauzon broke his ribs when he lunged toward Blow and slammed into his pedestal. The mayor’s wife, Karen Lauzon, said Monday he’s OK.

— The Associated Press

 

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Williston resident competes in Summer National Senior Games (7/30/09)

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July 30, 2009

By Ben Portnoy

Observer correspondent

Since first starting to play racquetball in 1978, Williston resident Les Hankins Jr. now finds himself competing in his first Summer National Senior Games.

Hankins has stuck with the sport for so many years simply for the love of the game.

“I enjoy the competition,” Hankins said. “More importantly, the people that I play with and against are superb human beings.”

Currently, Hankins plays at least twice per week at Sports & Fitness Edge in Williston. So, how did the 66-year-old decide to take his 31-year-old healthy hobby to the next level?

In 2004, after spending 30 years in Maryland, Hankins and his wife uprooted and moved to Williston to be closer to Hankins’ family.  Hankins said he was convinced by a relative, who had competed in the Senior Games since 1993, to take his passion for racquetball to the next level by qualifying for the 2009 Senior Games.

Last June, Hankins competed in a qualifying tournament at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville. He then found out in January that he had qualified for this year’s Senior Games. Hankins will compete in racquetball singles and doubles, with partner Brian Crandall of Waitsfield.

Taking place Aug. 1-15 in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, the Summer National Senior Games is a biennial Olympic style competition for athletes 50 and older. A torch run and Opening Ceremonies precede the competitive events.

Competitions for the 2009 Senior Games cover 18 sports, including archery, cycling, golf and track and field. The Celebration of Athletes Ceremony and the awarding of medals to winners is also part of the Senior Games.

Hankins admits that he has never competed in a tournament of this size, but he is still going for gold.

“I hope to be the last man standing. I know it’s very difficult to achieve, but I have the racquetball maturity and I think I’m fit enough,” Hankins said. “I at least want to give Vermont a good show.”

Natalie Varty, the 2009 Senior Games Media Team contact, noted that Hankins “is extremely proud that he has never stepped away from the game and is able to compete in this year’s games.”

Setting potential success in the 2009 Senior Games aside, Hankins says it is up in the air as to whether he would like to attend the 2011 Senior Games in Houston, Texas.

“Time will tell,” Hankins said. “After the first experience, one needs to savor the play and the organization. I’m kind of on the fence.”

Still, Hankins is only focusing on the challenges that await him in the next two weeks.

“It’ll be a great time,” Hankins said. “I’m really looking forward to it and I’ll give it all I can.”

The Observer’s sports correspondent, Mal Boright, will also compete at the Senior Games in basketball. Karin Thomsen of Williston also qualified for volleyball, but is no longer registered for the Games, according to Varty.

 

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CVU auditorium on track for September debut (7/30/09)

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Construction work comes in under budget

July 30, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

All summer long, the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium has been undergoing a dramatic change. Where rows of seats formerly faced an old and uneven stage now sits a large, green bulldozer. Mounds of dirt surround a large crater in the ground, representing where an orchestra pit will be installed. The deafening sound of high-powered drills is all that can be heard as construction crews prepare to install a series of catwalks above the auditorium’s floors.

 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Construction equipment at Champlain Valley Union High School surrounds a recently completed concrete structure, which will turn into the CVU auditorium’s new orchestra pit. Crews have been renovating the 40-year-old space since mid-June.

The auditorium’s renovation is well under way and, by all accounts, right on schedule. The 40-year-old space, which was not updated when CVU underwent major renovations in 2003, is finally getting its due. Gone will be the out-of-date stage area, tiny technical booth and orchestra room that doubled as a closet. In their place will be state-of-the-art equipment to make CVU’s auditorium the envy of other high school theater groups, said Principal Sean McMannon.

“There haven’t been a lot of new auditoriums built around the area in the last 10 to 15 years,” McMannon said.

The renovations are scheduled to be completed on Sept. 1, one day before freshmen begin their year at CVU. McMannon said more work might need to be done after that date, but he doesn’t foresee it lasting more than a week. After all, the theater classes and groups are due to start using the space almost immediately.

“We haven’t run into any major snafus yet, which is a good thing,” McMannon said.

Berlin-based Summit/Catamount Construction is handling the project and McMannon, along with CVU Director of Maintenance Kurt Proulx, are more than pleased with the work that’s been completed.

“I think it’s going to be great when it’s all done,” Proulx said. “(The old auditorium) had already reached its limit of usability.”

Initially, construction was to be completed in two phases, costing an estimated $2.5 million. But the project came in far below estimates at $1.4 million. The administration and School Board decided it would be more cost effective to complete the renovation during one phase this summer.

“You end up incurring a lot of additional costs when you phase a project,” McMannon explained.

He said the economic recession and the effects it’s had on the construction industry helped keep costs well below what was projected.

Most of the project’s funding came from money CVU already had on hand — $537,000 came from leftover construction funds from the 2003 renovations and $755,000 from the school’s general fund balance. Voters approved the use of the money in March.

Fundraising efforts and private donations also raised an estimated $185,000, according to Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Work began the day students finished school in June. Crews immediately removed seats in the auditorium to make way for heavy equipment.

One of the most notable additions to the space is the new orchestra pit, where musicians will sit and play music to accompany the performances on stage. Before, musicians were put in a tiny loft located stage right during shows. Now the band will be front and center, providing better sound while still remaining out of site for performances.

The stage will signify a major improvement, as well. The previous stage had been repaired through the years in a patchwork style. As a result, it was uneven and unsafe. Now, crews will install a brand new maple-floored stage.

Outside the auditorium, a new booth for tickets and concessions is in the middle of construction. Tickets will no longer be sold from a collapsible table in front of the facility’s doors, McMannon said.

Once the auditorium is completed, Proulx said members of his staff will familiarize themselves with its inner workings. He said there will need to be a lot of training with staff, theater and technical students to ensure everyone is on the same page.

McMannon said he’s thrilled students will now be able to learn and perform in an auditorium suitable for the school.

Proulx said he’s most excited about one thing: “I want to see the smiles on everyone’s faces when this is all done.”

 

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Police Notes (7/30/09)

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Driving under the influence

• On July 20, police received a report regarding an erratic driver. Police located the alleged driver leaving Clark’s Sunoco and followed him onto Interstate 89. The driver, Carl L. Tallman, 39, of Barre, was pulled over at the Williston southbound rest area and arrested on a charge of suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol “after his blood alcohol content was found to be twice the legal limit,” according to police reports. The legal limit for driving in Vermont is .08.

• Henry Lester, 51, of Crowley, Texas was cited on a charge of driving under the influence on July 24, according to police reports. No other information was available as of press time.

• Following a motor vehicle stop on Industrial Avenue on July 25, Quintin Burnett, 19, of Essex was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence and “underage consumption,” according to police reports. His blood alcohol content was .210, according to the report. He was later released and cited to appear in court.

• Scott Nelson, 45, of Essex Junction was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence, second offense, on July 25, according to police reports. His blood alcohol test registered .129, according to the report. He was taken to Chittenden County Correctional Center.

Theft

On July 22 at about 3 p.m., a woman’s wallet was stolen out of her purse while she was shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond, according to police reports. Police say the victim told them a woman bumped her cart several times, and she suspects “the woman may have taken her wallet” during that time, according to the report. The suspect subsequently made several purchases in the area, one of which was caught on videotape, according to the report. Anyone with information is asked to call Williston Police at 878-6611.

Marijuana possession

Christopher Devino, 27, of Hinesburg was cited on a charge of marijuana possession in the Hannaford parking lot on June 17, according to police reports.

Wanted person

Irman Munson, 37, of Williston was “taken into custody on an outstanding warrant” on July 20, according to police reports. He was taken to District Court, the report notes.

Disorderly conduct

Deron Elliott, 41, of Williston was cited on a charge of disorderly conduct on July 21 after allegedly yelling obscenities, according to police reports. He was cited to appear in court.

Driving with suspended license

Nelson T. Lime, 21, of Charlotte, was cited on a charge of “criminal” driving with a suspended license on July 23, according to police reports. No other information was released.

Vandalism

A blue vehicle was “tampered with” in the Texas Roadhouse parking lot on July 23, according to police reports. Anyone with information is asked to call Williston Police at 878-6611.

 

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Everyday Gourmet (7/30/09)

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The sog blog

July 30, 2009

By Kim Dannies

Enough about the weather! Sure, it’s been a super soggy summer, and too many picnics and parades have been rained on, but we still get to eat great food in the most glorious of seasons. Think of it this way: All this rain gives a cook more time to experiment with new techniques, equipment and recipes.

I’m having a ball solving old problems and trying out new ideas. First challenge: I’m tired of my kitchen smelling like a ship’s loo every time I cook seafood. So when I found soft-shell lobsters for $4.99 a pound, I bought six lobsters and a disposable aluminum steam pan. I fired my grill to the max, boiled 10 cups of water and created a bain-marie steam table in which to cook the lobsters. I placed the lobsters into the steam, covered them securely with foil and shut the lid. After a full 10 minutes of no peeking, I popped the lid and uncovered the lobsters; the cooked ones were bright red and the main antennae snapped cleanly in half. I removed those lobsters to a holding pan (a smaller disposable with a hole poked in the bottom, to drain the debris). All grills vary in temperature, so there is no precise way to time the cooking; simply rely on the “snap test” and plan anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes for 1- to 1 1/2-pound soft-shells.

Once the lobsters were cooked, I cracked and drained the shells, harvested the meat, disposed of the remains and hosed down the area — voilà, seafood heaven! (Don’t forget to grill your fresh corn and tomatoes, too.)

The disposable pan method also works well for mussels and clams. Just rinse and place a bunch in a pan with white wine, herbs, garlic, tomato and onions; cover, and steam for 15 to 18 minutes. Serve this mélange right from the pan with chunks of sourdough bread and a chilled Pinot Grigio.

My new toy is a cast-iron griddle, also known to South American cooks as a “planka.” I found it on amazon.com by googling Weber griddles. I carefully seasoned the cast iron, and now I have a very, very hot surface to play on.

My first experiment was sweet potato rosti. I peeled and shredded a large sweet potato along with 4 garlic cloves. Then I mixed it with a little olive oil, kosher salt and red pepper flakes. I dropped 4 round spoonfuls onto the hot planka and made 4 potato pancakes that rocked my world. On the other grill section I seared some skirt steak; then, I measured out 1 cup of Hellmann’s mayo and mixed it with 2 or 3 teaspoons of Sriracha sauce for a spicy aioli.

With summer eats like this, I’m not thinking about the rain. What rain?

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

 

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Little Details (7/30/09)

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Letter from summer camp

July 30, 2009

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Our new cabin mate exploded onto the scene announcing, “Hi, I’m Mary Wanda …!” Following closely behind, her well-dressed parents toted pillows, linens and a gargantuan trunk.

My parents dropped me off at camp with a suitcase, pillow and sleeping bag we bought for the occasion. Mom and Dad didn’t linger; they didn’t know to send along Bazooka Bubble Gum.

Mary’s mother busily made her bed, fluffing up pillows and arranging a menagerie of stuffed animals. I sat on my flat bunk with its somewhat flat feather pillow. I decided I didn’t like Mary.

Mary brought so much stuff it seemed to overwhelm our rustic cabin. Mary — we would learn — had a pony back home. This was camp for Polish kids and her surname sounded almost Italian. Mary claimed her middle name — Wanda — came from a real Polish princess. My name wasn’t regal. It was common enough that there were three girls named Kathy in our cabin. We ended up referring to each other as Kathy #1, Kathy #2 and Kathy #3, with my assuming the middle slot.

Mary’s slightly boastful nature grated on me. I disliked how she introduced herself to everyone with her first, middle and last name. I envied her fluffy, flowered bedding, littered with stuffed animals. I coveted my cabin mate’s property in direct violation of the Ten Commandments I’d memorized at school. I resented her doting parents. But Mary possessed one slightly redeeming quality: A huge stash of Bazooka Bubble Gum, which she sometimes shared.

I loved Polish kids’ camp, attending the summers I was 10, 11 and 12. I swam, dabbled in archery, produced numerous macramé bracelets and painted plaster figurines. I met kids from Dorchester, Chelsea, Lynn, Holyoke, Wilbraham and most any Massachusetts town with a smattering of immigrants from the Old Country. Our last names carried familiar suffixes of -ski, -czyk and -wiec, which proved entirely pronounceable to us.

We grew up in houses that smelled of cabbage and kielbasa. We learned our parents’ stories of the war, of German occupation and the lice, the terrible, inescapable lice. We fidgeted through Sunday Mass and prepared Easter baskets with colored eggs and sweet babka bread, blessed by our parish priests. We gathered at friends’ homes for parties where adults sat at tables overflowing with meats, poppy seed cakes and slender bottles of vodka. As children, we pilfered food from the table between chaotic games of tag. Many of our parents worked blue-collar jobs on assembly lines when well-paid manufacturing was still plentiful in Massachusetts. We shared a common culture.

I loved campfires where we sang silly songs like, “The Cannibal King with the Big Nose Ring” and roasted marshmallows on sticks pulled from the woods. We slathered ourselves in suntan lotion — we didn’t call it sunscreen then — and sprayed clouds of OFF! mosquito repellent as if it was perfume.

My favorite activity at Polish kids’ camp was a class called Polish Culture. A priest sat with us in the shade of a tree to share fairy tales. I was enchanted by stories of “Krakus and the Dragon” and “Pan Twardowski,” the alchemist who sold his soul to the Devil. I learned Poland was once a kingdom of castles and knights in shining armor.

Camp provided opportunities to let loose, just a little. I remember shaving cream fights and hoisting someone’s swimsuit up the flagpole. Imagine the surprise during morning roll call when Old Glory was replaced by a flapping yellow bikini! We told ghost stories and created finger plays with flashlights. We’d sneak to the boys’ cabins at night to play tricks on them. I seem to recall pouring warm water on the feet of a sleeping camper. I’ll never know if the “trick” really caused him to wet his bed. Practical jokes were part of camp and many were played on me.

My best friend at camp was Patti Z. She was tall like me and very funny. Prune juice, served in Dixie Cups at breakfast to keep us “regular,” were cause for humor. Patti and I held our noses, laughing uncontrollably, as we ingested fluid reminiscent of car oil. We spent hours swimming at the lake, jumping into deep water from the dock some kids were too afraid to swim out to. We both had a crush on Eric W., whose dad owned a sausage business. We grumbled about Mary and her constant chatter. We were jealous of her pony.

Patti and I decided to play a trick on Mary. We stole her enormous can of aerosol deodorant — I think it was Arrid Extra Dry — and took turns emptying its contents. We must have created quite the deodorizing cloud of CFCs because we looked up and found the camp director standing directly over us.

The director made us apologize to Mary and pay for a new can of deodorant. Mary didn’t flinch. She accepted our apology. She didn’t hold our crime against us and even shared her Bazooka Bubble Gum. I realized Mary was actually pretty nice. I learned a valuable lesson about not judging people too harshly.

As my own daughter attends summer camp on the shores of Lake Champlain, she too is learning lessons, the kinds of lessons only her cabinmates can teach.

Note: Last names omitted to protect privacy.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

 

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Guest Column (7/30/09)

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Success in failure

July 30, 2009

By Bill Mares

A lot of graduation speeches are about your new dawn, your bright and shining commencement, how you can succeed, how you will have the world by the tail. But they are tiresome clichés, and often untrue.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about failure.

My interest here is not in deliberate or reckless failure but in that which comes often despite your hardest labors and most fervent desires.

Because I believe that disappointments will more often be your traveling companions on the journey of life than will be success.

Failure is hard to analyze, because individuals and institutions never like to admit their failings, or examine their defeats. Now, of the definitions of failure in the Oxford Universal Dictionary, my favorite says, “To become exhausted, to give way under trial, to fall short in performance or attainment.”

One obvious kind of failure is to flunk an exam. That’s straightforward … and unhappy. You didn’t study, the questions were too hard or maybe you had a bad day.

Then there are the athletic losses. Most of my varsity teams in high school had losing seasons and we grew tired of being told that somehow we were “building character.”

A second kind of failure is the inability to measure up to or achieve one’s own aspirations. By that definition, I stand before you a three-time failure. In the eight years after I left high school I tried to become first a foreign service officer, then a banker, then a lawyer. In the first case, the State Department rejected me. In the second case, I rejected banking. The third case was a draw — I didn’t like law school and law school didn’t like me much either.

I can joke about it now, but at the time it was devastating, as these failures mounted up. Then, as if to prove the adage that a blind hog can find an acorn now and then, I fell into journalism and writing, then politics and teaching. But it was all no thanks to planning on my part.

The third brand of failure is based upon the belief that once you have chosen a course, or job, a profession or even an opinion, you should stick with it come hell or high water. The New York Times recently ran a long piece about a lawyer who threw over a six-figure income to repair motorcycles because he wanted concrete fulfillment with his hands and mind.

A fourth version is the failure caused by forces beyond our individual control — a dairy farmer in Vermont, a fisherman in Massachusetts, an auto worker in Detroit with jobs that have disappeared. Just look at the economy today, with almost 10 percent of people out of work. These millions did everything conventional wisdom, morality and economics told them. Now they’re pounding the pavement looking for jobs.

You are going out into a world that is changing by the minute, where events far from your doorstep will affect you. It’s like one of those space shuttle simulators, spinning, shaking, rattling in perpetual, hair-raising motion, a world moving even as we walk on it.

Anyone who promises you will be masters of your destiny is either smoking or snorting something.

So, what does all this mean?

First of all, don’t be afraid to fail. In his book “Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain described a boat pilot who applied for a job. He said he deserved the post because he knew where all the sandbars were. The captain asked, “How?”

“I hit ‘em,” the man replied. He got the job.

Second, think for yourself. Be contrary. As the bumper sticker says, “Question authority.”

Be suspicious of easy answers and slick promises. Hang out with people who are smarter than you are. Have patience with yourself and with others. Yes, reach for the stars with one hand, yet keep the other hand free to help the less fortunate.

I predict that all of you will fail in at least one of the ways I have described and you will be better for it. That is what Thomas Huxley meant when he wrote, “There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few mistakes early in life.”

To Jon Carroll, a newspaper columnist in San Francisco, “success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time … First time success is usually a fluke. First time failure, by contrast, is unexpected; it is the natural order of things.”

Thomas Edison we think of as a genius. But he estimated he tried over 700 substances and combinations of substances to get the right material for the light bulb. His reflection was not, “I have failed 700 times.” Instead, it was, “I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways didn’t work.”

From 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau said, “Cultivate the tree you have found to bear fruit in your soil. Regard not your past failures nor successes. All the past is equally a failure and a success; it is a success in as much as it offers you this present opportunity.”

One of our sons lives and works in Thailand. When I told him I was to deliver a talk on this subject, he wrote back saying, “Just don’t be boring, Dad.”

Then, to the same e-mail, he attached a YouTube clip of an ad Michael Jordan did for a shoe company. Jordan arrives for a game. As he walks slowly toward the players’ entrance, out of the darkness you can hear him say, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Thanks again for having me, and good failure!

Bill Mares is an author and former teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School. He read this speech at CVU’s graduation last month.

 

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Selectboard delays decision on utility fees (7/30/09)

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Ordinance would charge for underground lines

July 30, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard last week ordered staff to further negotiate with utility companies regarding an ordinance that would impose fees for installing underground lines.

The board, after listening to a Vermont Gas representative complain the new rules would drive up costs and potentially prevent line extensions, delayed a vote.

Board member Jeff Fehrs said he was still unsure if the fees matched the actual cost of working around buried lines. Ted Kenney wanted to head off complaints that the town was inflexible or unwilling to negotiate.

“I don’t want anybody saying they didn’t have a fair chance to talk to town officials,” Kenney said at the board’s July 20 session. He mentioned another recent instance — an apparent reference to the controversy over approval of a roundabout in Williston Village — in which residents accused the board of rushing to make a decision before listening to their concerns.

The ordinance had been discussed at previous Selectboard meetings and town staff had already met with representatives from Vermont Gas Systems Inc. and Green Mountain Power.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said further negotiations might be fruitless: “I think the majority of the issues here have been talked about, and there is a fundamental disagreement.”

Town staff proposed the ordinance as a way to cover municipal costs associated with working around the tangle of wires and pipes buried near roads. Public Works Director Neil Boyden has said it takes considerable time and effort to dodge utility lines when, for example, a culvert must be replaced.

The fees would generate an estimated $25,000 a year in revenue for the town.

Williston now charges a refundable deposit of $600 each time a utility company installs a new line along public rights of way, roughly a 12-foot strip bordering each side of town roads. Under the new rules, utilities would pay a $100 permit fee and a $100 inspection fee, which are not refundable.

The ordinance also imposes a new $10-per-square-foot fee for excavating sidewalks and roads, and $1.75 per square foot for digging up non-paved areas. Boring horizontally, so-called “trenchless technology” where lines are installed parallel to the ground, would also cost $1.75 per linear foot.

The later provision has drawn the loudest complaints from Vermont Gas. Company spokesman Jim Condos, in a prepared statement, told the Selectboard that Williston would be the only town that imposes a fee for installing lines without digging a trench.

Condos noted that Vermont Gas already helps cover municipal costs, paying about $54,000 in property tax and roughly $35,000 in local sales tax in the last fiscal year.

“Vermont Gas understands that municipalities may be mildly inconvenienced with having facilities located in their roads and rights-of-ways,” his written statement said. “But Vermont Gas’ existence in your (rights-of-way) provides your constituency with a valuable product — an economical, clean source of energy. These additional fees assessed by this ordinance will increase the cost of expanding natural gas service in Williston. These costs will ultimately be borne by the residents and businesses served by Vermont Gas — your constituency.”

Condos told the board that Vermont Gas uses a formula to determine if it is financially feasible to expand service. He said the new fees may prevent future expansions.

Town staff has since the meeting again talked with Vermont Gas. Staff may be willing to make small changes in the fee collection process, McGuire said, but a major alteration to the new rules “pretty much undercuts the fundamental purpose of having the ordinance in the first place.”

The ordinance will likely be considered again by the board at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 17.

 

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RETN and Comcast seek contract resolution (7/30/09)

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July 30, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Regional Educational Television Network and Comcast went back before the Vermont Public Service Board last week in an effort to resolve an ongoing contract dispute.

This was the second meeting before the board for the nation’s largest cable company and the locally owned and operated RETN. Both parties met before the board in February.

RETN provides educational programming, such as coverage of School Board meetings and graduations, for cities and towns across the Champlain Valley on channel 16.

RETN Executive Director Scott Campitelli issued a statement to the Observer this week about the ongoing discussions.

“Comcast and RETN are working collaboratively to provide quality, meaningful educational access programming,” Campitelli wrote in an e-mail. “To that end, we are moving forward to resolving our contractual issues in a way that will mutually benefit Comcast cable customers and RETN viewers and non-profit constituents.”

Comcast’s Vermont representative, Christina DeGraff-Murphy, did not respond to telephone calls before press deadline on Wednesday.

Both parties also met on July 2 to begin negotiations before the Public Service Board hearing. That meeting came after Comcast released the results of an independent audit into RETN’s finances. Comcast charged that RETN’s bookkeeping was not up to par, citing that as a primary reason for not renewing one contract and suspending another contract with the nonprofit network.

But the audit found no glaring mistakes on RETN’s part and said the network had made positive changes since Comcast brought the issue to the network’s attention in 2008.

RETN is mainly funded by Comcast, which sets aside a portion of its subscription fees for local programming in accordance with federal and state laws.

Discussions between the two parties are ongoing and Comcast and RETN are scheduled to meet again in early September, according to Doug Dunbebin, RETN’s community relations associate. An exact date has not been set, Dunbebin said.

 

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