April 23, 2018

Little Details (10/22/09)

Spirits among us

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

The light in my office refuses to turn on. I flip the switch several times in a vain quest for illumination. My computer fires up, casting its blue glow over early morning darkness. I’m alone upstairs in my tiny office, in the old Victorian in which I work. As a nonprofit serving at-risk kids, our digs are decidedly austere.

Dance music and the aroma of fresh-baked scones waft upward into my workspace. Our cook plays her dance music with the volume turned up high. She loves to dance and frequently performs the Samba while flipping pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches.

One hundred percent of the kids we serve qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most lack traditional family supports. Many are survivors of trauma, which impedes their ability to learn.

Our agency’s cook artfully arranges cereals and fresh fruit for students who will soon arrive. Scones nestle in baskets, ready for quick consumption. Food is displayed in a decidedly homey manner for kids who may have been denied nurturing homes. Full stomachs fuel the fire of human curiosity.

This is not a story about education nor is it a tale of challenges faced by children in foster care. It’s actually a bit of a ghost story.

“If I play the music loud, I can’t hear what’s going on in the rest of the house,” our cook jokes.

If the radio is off, our cook hears things — unexplained noises — when alone in the house. Arriving for work at 6 a.m., she’s the first one to unlock the door and turn on the lights. She sometimes hears footsteps. She’s witnessed interior doors waver and shut without the prompting of human hands and nary a draft in sight.

Her story confirmed my own feelings of a presence. It’s not ominous. It’s just there, like someone watching over me. If I work late and the building has cleared out, I never feel completely alone. Once, a small rock, a souvenir from a faraway beach, inexplicably slid across my desk before my eyes. I wondered if there’d been a tremor, but lack of seismic activity dispelled that explanation. I shifted the rock back and resumed working, nervously joking aloud that my spectral guest was “playing a game with me.”

I realize there are two kinds of people: Those who believe in ghosts and those who do not. I fall into the former camp.

I cautiously asked other colleagues if they observed any seeming paranormal activity in our 1890s Victorian. My boss just smiled and laughed. I don’t think he believes in ghosts.

My persistence as an amateur spectral seeker paid off. Several other staffers had stories to tell — of friendly, mischievous ghosts. It seems our spirits are shy. They don’t like crowds. They typically show up when few people are in the building — in the early morning or evening hours when the place is largely deserted.

Our payroll administrator occasionally works late. She hears doors opening and closing. Murmurs of conversations wend their way into her office from down the hall after all have left for the evening. She’s sat at her desk and watched her adding machine spontaneously calculate mismatched numbers, untouched by her human hand. She once heard footsteps ascending our carpeted staircase and called out, “Who’s there?” No one answered. No one appeared.

Our maintenance person, a healthily skeptical guy, notes that tools and other items occasionally go missing only to reappear in nonsensical places. Is there a poltergeist engaging in playful telekinesis or is there some other “logical” explanation?

One staff member claims she saw an apparition. Our former cook encountered the ghost of a little girl dressed in an old fashioned white nightgown on the stairs. The girl smiled at her before disappearing into the thick, horsehair plaster walls. The cook quit shortly thereafter.

If our house is haunted, our visitors are of a decidedly friendly vintage. Perhaps they know we’re working to keep kids safe. If our house isn’t haunted, several of us suffer from overactive imaginations.

I’m not sure if my temperamental lights reflect ghostly handiwork or stodgy wiring. I’ve not experienced disembodied voices or hyperactive doors, but I’ve definitely sensed a presence. As days grow short and darkness accompanies my arrival and departure, I try to not linger in the office alone. Friendly ghosts are preferable to mischievous ones and yet, I’m inclined to commune with the living.

Happy Halloween.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com or editor@willistonobserver.com.


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Letters to the Editor (10/22/09)

Oct. 22, 2009

Stop shooting with lead

As we sit here, toxic lead continues to be spread into our environment at the North Country Sportsman’s Club off of Old Creamery Road here in Williston. I understand a gun club needs a place to shoot, but it also has the responsibility to protect the environment that surrounds it — and its neighbors.

People need to be reminded the right amount of lead allowed into the surrounding environment is NONE. Zero. Lead is toxic. The effects of lead are well-documented. Forty years of tons of lead shot contamination is a very long time for the NCSC to ignore lead reclamation practices or BLMP — best land management practices — here in Williston.

The EPA is very clear on this. The right way is to collect and recycle the lead, and ultimately, switch to other kinds of shot. Doing nothing is the wrong way. Doing nothing means lead potentially leaching into well head protection areas, soil contamination, farmland, gardens, poisoning of local streams and so on.

As neighbors, we relish the quality of life up in this area. Now this is threatened by decades of lead being shot and deposited into the surrounding soil, grassland and woodlands.

It’s not a question of “if” this will rear its ugly head in years to come, but “when?” I just hope we aren’t too late.

Peter Engisch, Williston


A roundabout petition

The roundabout controversy is not dying down. For those who have not followed the issue, the Selectboard decided to install a roundabout to replace the current four-way crossroad of Route 2, Oak Hill Road and North Williston Road. There was and continues to be wide opposition to this mainly because people believe that it would materially change the character of the historic village center. A petition opposing this roundabout was launched in spring this year and several hundred Williston residents signed it. However, the Selectboard decided to continue with its plans for the roundabout in spite of the result of this petition since it had not called for a popular vote.

I get the clear sense that a majority of Willistonians are opposing the roundabout but there are also a number in favor of it and both should be heard. I believe that a popular vote is the right way to go about it — let the majority of voting residents decide one way or another. A group of residents have now launched a petition calling for a popular vote on the issue and asking to have it put on the March 2010 ballot. This petition can be seen and signed at the following places in Williston: Bagels Plus, Paper Peddler, Men at Wok, Glamour Nails, UPS Store, Keeping Good Company, Rehab Gym, Sports and Fitness Edge, as well as on the bulletin board of the Williston Federated Church.

Lutz Muller, Williston


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Guest Column (10/22/09)

Open letter to Rep. Macaig: Will you support Vermont’s teachers?

Oct. 22, 2009

By Louisa Costantino-Foley

I am proud to say that I have been a teacher in Colchester since 1978. At that time, I began to make my contributions to the Vermont State Teachers Retirement System. It was not a choice any teacher had. It was a mandate that we all must contribute. It still is.

For 31 years, I have had money taken from my paycheck with no say about what happens to it. I had no choice but to trust that the state of Vermont would safeguard my money, oversee my investment and promise that my retirement would be there for me when I needed it. Now four years away from that retirement, I am more nervous about the state’s promise to me than ever before.

Over those 31 years I kept my faith in the state of Vermont — even though I have seen the retirement funds raided from time to time for other uses. I’ve seen those funds used to build roads, heard concerns raised about underfunding of those monies and nervously endured debates about the retirement fund’s future.

Now, I understand that State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, in conjunction with the Legislature, has set up a Commission on the Design and Funding of Retirement and Health Benefit Plans for State Employees and Teachers, which will look at potential changes in the teachers’ retirement system. On the surface, this may seem fine.

However, Mr. Macaig, since you’re a member of the commission, why has the state also hired an out-of-state law firm, Ice Miller (from Indiana), well known for its anti-union activities, to work in conjunction with this commission? Are there no firms in the entire state of Vermont capable of serving its interests?

Given the difficult financial straits the state faces, where does the state find $150,000 to pay this firm’s minimum fee? I just read in the Burlington Free Press about new job cuts. What are the state priorities at this time? 

Teacher retirement funds (and my financial future, along with thousands of other Vermont state employees) are now in the hands of Jeb Spaulding’s commission.

Mr. Macaig, is there a not-so-hidden agenda to continue to underfund (now at an astonishing $700 million) and undermine the retirement system? Why does the commission not include an active teacher, or a single retired teacher, or one state employee, nor even a single school board member from anywhere in the state? Just what does this commission hope to accomplish?

Mr. Macaig, how will you protect those already in the system, including those who put their faith in you to represent them. Mr. Macaig, just who will you represent as you assume your role on this commission?

Admittedly, I am nervous for myself and my family. However, I am also nervous for those educators relatively new to the retirement system and even more so for those idealistic and eager college graduates just starting out. I realize that it is easy to fire up anti-teacher sentiment at Town Meeting and budget time. Overall, however, Vermonters can be proud of their teachers — for what they have done, continue to do and for what they will do in the future for the children of Vermont.

Mr. Macaig, will you, the commission, and the state make us proud by keeping promises long made to people whose service deserves fairness, honesty and transparency?


Louisa Costantino-Foley is a Williston resident and a teacher in the Colchester School District.


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Halloween photo contest (10/22/09)

Oct. 22, 2009

Get ready to use your best photography tricks, because the Observer is offering a Halloween treat.

The Observer is hosting a Halloween photo contest, so get the cameras ready.

Submissions will be accepted from now until noon on Monday, Nov. 2. Entries should be saved as JPEG files and e-mailed to editor@willistonobserver.com.

Include your name, address, phone number and time and place the photo was taken.

Entries are limited to three photos per household.

Observer staff will judge photos based on clarity, color, composition and ability to portray the Halloween season.

The contest is being sponsored by Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza in Williston. In addition to having the winning photo printed in the Observer on Nov. 5, winners will receive a gift certificate to Ramunto’s: $50 for first place, $25 for second place and $10 for third place.

The top 10 finalists will appear online at www.willistonobserver.com.

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Correction (10/22/09)

Oct. 22, 2009

Last week’s “Police notes” provided the incorrect date of a violation of conditions of release. Gary Larock was cited for violations that occurred Sept. 3 and Sept. 8.


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St. George Day given initial approval (10/22/09)

Event scheduled for spring

Oct. 22, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A yearly gathering in St. George that will bring residents together and raise money for good causes won preliminary approval last week.

The Selectboard gave the initial nod for St. George Day, which will take place on Saturday, June 18, said event organizer Lori Ring. It will be held in the field next to Town Center on Vermont 2A.

Ring said the afternoon event may feature games, food and craft vendors and cultural activities. A performance by English dancers is planned, part of a theme mimicking St. George’s Day, held each April in England to honor the patron saint. Other ideas include live music, basketball and baseball games, family activities and a pig roast.

Ring originally considered holding St. George Day on the same day as the English celebration, but concluded that Vermont’s iffy spring weather made it impractical.

“It’s just too muddy, too wet, too cool,” Ring said.

She had originally hoped the event could raise money for the restoration and relocation of the town’s old schoolhouse, which has fallen into disrepair over the years. The project will cost an estimated $247,000.

But after learning of the considerable expense of putting on a big event, Ring expressed doubts that there will be much money left over to benefit the school, at least in the first year.

Still, Ring figures the event could in the future benefit other causes. And no matter what, she said, it won’t involve spending any tax money

Selectboard member Phil Gingrow said he was supportive of the proposal, which he likened to harvest festivals and Independence Day celebrations held in other towns.

“But really she has a lot more work to do at this point,” Gingrow said.

Questioning by the board revealed that Ring had yet to arrange for facilities that would accommodate a crowd.

The idea for St. George Day was first suggested by Les Parker, a South Burlington resident from England. He celebrates the holiday each April with his neighbors and wanted to expand the festivities. St. George was a logical venue, even if the town was actually named for King George, not the saint.

Ring was asked to return to the Selectboard in January with more complete plans for the celebration and potential final approval.

In the meantime, she is seeking volunteers to help her organize the event. She’s also looking for people willing to donate various goods and services, including a band to play music.

Regardless of what shape it takes, Ring said St. George Day will give all residents a chance to gather in one place, something that only happens now at the annual town meeting.

“I’m just trying to get the town together,” she said.


To volunteer to help organize St. George Day or to donate services or goods, call 482-3747 or e-mail loria@gmavt.net.

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Paper Peddler doubles in size at Maple Tree Place (10/22/09)

Oct. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A local card and gift store in Maple Tree Place has recently grown bigger. The Paper Peddler, located on Connor Way, doubled the size of its retail location when it expanded into a vacant space next door.

Paper Peddler owner Kathie Cooke said the expansion is part of an effort to offer more gift lines to customers in Williston and the Champlain Valley.

“In order to do that, we needed more space,” Cooke said.

Space became available last March when the Vitamin Connection left Maple Tree Place. Cooke said she thought about adding that space for her store for several months before she approached Maple Tree Place management with the idea. The expansion was completed early this month.

“We really wanted to get it done before the holidays,” Cooke said.

The store now encompasses roughly 1,500 square feet of retail space, Cooke said. The new section allows for an expanded line of Vera Bradley handbags as well as a new line of Chamilia beads and jewelry. Cooke said she hopes to add more product lines based on customer suggestions.

Cooke said business has been strong despite the economic recession and she credits a strong customer base as well as an influx of new customers. She said she tries to be exclusive in the products she carries, whether it’s local or national items. Doing so, Cooke said, makes the Paper Peddler a destination store of sorts.

“I want us to be something more than just the ‘store next door,’” Cooke said.

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St. George man faces sexual assault charges (10/22/09)

Oct. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A St. George man stands accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl for five years beginning in 2000.

Richard A. Clark, 58, has been charged with two counts of repeated aggravated sexual assault. The alleged victim said Clark assaulted her from when she was 6 years old until she was 11. The abuse allegedly took place in St. George and Vergennes, according to the girl, who is now 17.

Clark pleaded not guilty to the charges in Vermont District Court on Friday. If convicted, the maximum sentence is life in prison.

Judge Matthew Katz ordered Clark held without bail. Clark lives with his fiancée, who runs a daycare facility out of her house in St. George. He is being held at the Chittenden County Correctional Center in South Burlington.

An investigation against Clark began in May after the alleged victim told a teacher in Vergennes that she had been abused when Clark was her mother’s live-in boyfriend. The girl lived with Clark in Vergennes and moved with Clark and her family to St. George when she was 6, according to a police affidavit.

The teacher subsequently informed authorities with the Department for Children and Families. The department then contacted Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, which handles abuse cases in the county. According to the affidavit written by CUSI Detective Gregg Jager, the girl said the abuse occurred “too many times to count.”

The girl told investigators the abuse took place when her mother and brother were at work or school and she was left home alone with Clark. She said she was often awoken early in the morning by Clark and abused.

According to the affidavit, Clark typically showed up for work at 8 a.m. at the Saputo cheese factory in Hinesburg up until the building burned down last year.

The girl told police the abuse stopped when Clark’s relationship with her mother ended around the time she turned 11. The girl told police she’d informed her mother and sister about the abuse.

The sister, however, told police she had never heard of any abuse allegations from her sister.

Interviewed by investigators in May, Clark said nothing happened between the girl and him. According to the affidavit, Clark wondered why allegations were surfacing now.

“I’m not going to sit here and own up to something I didn’t do,” Clark told police, according to the affidavit.

According to court records, Clark has no previous convictions for sexual assault.

Clark was represented by public defender Dan Maguire during Friday’s proceedings. It’s unclear whether Clark is intending to retain Maguire as his attorney. Maguire could not be reached prior to press deadline.

Clark is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 10 for a status conference.

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Williston bypassed for commuter parking (10/22/09)

State rejects funding for Town Hall lot

Oct. 22, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston’s quest for commuter parking has stalled again, with the state rejecting funding for a lot at Town Hall and choosing instead less expensive projects in rural areas.

Earlier this year the town applied for a grant to construct a 20-space park-and-ride that would expand the existing lot behind Town Hall. But last week, town officials learned that the $150,000 project, vying for funding with 16 other proposals, failed to make the cut.

Coincidentally, the Selectboard on Monday was scheduled to be briefed by Wayne Davis, a Vermont Agency of Transportation employee who helps administer the grant program. As planned, he updated the board on two other long-planned park-and-ride projects in Williston.

But he also got grilled about the grant by board members already displeased with the slow progress on the other facilities. They wondered why the town and its thousands of commuters were passed over while places as small as the Northeast Kingdom hamlet of Norton, population just over 200, received money.

“I think it is important to allow people to combine and travel together in some of the more rural areas of the state,” board member Chris Roy said. “But there is also a need to deal with the more congested areas of the state.”

Other towns receiving grants besides Norton were Pawlet, Readsboro, Rockingham, South Hero, Starksboro, Warren, Washington, West Haven and Westminster.

Board member Judy Sassorossi asked if placing park-and-rides in sparsely populated regions actually encourages sprawl.

“In a way,” Davis said. “But in a way, that’s there now, and what we’re doing is reducing some of the vehicle miles traveled.”

The state received grant applications seeking close to $800,000 in funding. But state lawmakers appropriated only $250,000 this year for the Municipal Park-and-Ride Grant Program.

The Agency of Transportation used a point system to choose which projects would be funded. Factors considered included cost, location and accessibility to public transit.

The Williston project’s price tag was one reason it was rejected, Davis told the Selectboard, despite the fact that the town trimmed its original funding request by $50,000 at the state’s urging. He said there was an effort to stretch the money to pay for as many park-and-rides as possible.

Another factor working against Williston was the lack of bus service in the village, which Davis said was a key consideration.

Town Manager Rick McGuire pointed out an irony: The same day he learned the grant was rejected, he was informed that the Chittenden County Transportation Authority received federal funding for a new bus route that may terminate at Williston Town Hall.

McGuire asked if the Champlain Valley Union High School bus that now stops in the lot was considered in the grant decision. Davis said it was not.

Sassorossi said that was a mistake.

“If you start when you are 16 to use park-and-rides and public transit, it becomes a life habit,” she said.

Board members also asked sometimes pointed questions about the other park-and-rides, one planned for Vermont 2A just south of Interstate 89 and another facility, also on 2A nearer to Taft Corners.

More progress has been made on the lot south of the interstate, Davis said, with conceptual plans completed and negotiations ongoing with two property owners.

The state continues to search for a site for the other park-and-ride, which Davis said could be located somewhere in or around Taft Corners Park, the commercial development that includes Wal-Mart and The Home Depot.

Sassorossi said she preferred the site closer to Taft Corners, asserting the other location was isolated and could pose safety problems for women waiting in the dark for their rides to arrive.

“It’s intimidating and it’s unsafe,” she said, noting that assaults on women are “crimes of opportunities.”

Roy worried that once the facility south of the interstate is built, there would be no incentive for the state to construct the other park-and-ride. Davis responded that the I-89 site was not isolated because the lot would be within sight distance of the highway. And he said both park-and-rides are slated to be funded regardless of which is built first.

Davis said Williston might have better luck in 2010 if it reapplies for the Town Hall park-and-ride grant.

“I encourage you to put in an application next year and hopefully we’ll get better funding,” he said.

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Weapons contractor moving to town (10/22/09)

General Dynamics to occupy IBM building next year

Oct. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

One of Burlington’s largest employers will move to Williston in late 2010.

General Dynamics, which makes defense systems for the U.S. Department of Defense and other countries, announced its plans Friday.

General Dynamics’ Vermont-based Armament and Technical Products division will move into a building owned by IBM Corp. in that company’s Williston facility on IBM Road. Roughly 450 employees will move with General Dynamics to Williston. Employees will remain at the company’s Lakeside Drive location in Burlington until the IBM building is renovated for General Dynamics.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said once the company moves to Williston, it will become one of the town’s largest employers.

According to DefenseNews.com, General Dynamics, with its headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., is the world’s fifth largest defense contractor, working with more than 30 countries.

“Our business is changing, and we need to take steps to ensure we are as efficient and effective as we can be,” Bill Gural, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics’ Burlington location, said in a written statement.

“By moving, we’ll be adopting a new environment for our employees that will improve their ability to collaborate, make them more efficient and help them remain focused on accomplishing our customers’ missions,” he added.

The company is also leaving Burlington due to increased rent and other financial factors, according to Joyce Weyersburg, communications director for General Dynamics’ headquarters in North Carolina.

“I know we were looking for lower costs and convenience for our employees,” Weyersburg said.

Weyersburg also said the company is committed to staying in Vermont, and signed a long-term lease with IBM. She was unsure of when the lease expires.

General Dynamics makes defense and weapons systems, including aircraft defense, missile and soldier weapons systems, for various branches of the U.S. armed services. The Vermont facility does not manufacture any of the weapons, but develops much of the company’s programs and designs technology for its products.

“There’s really not much changing except for the actual physical location,” Weyersburg said.

General Dynamics is currently located in 204,000 square feet of space in Burlington Technology Park. The company will downsize when it moves into the 112,000 square foot Building 862 at IBM.

According to IBM spokesperson Jeff Couture, IBM used the space for product design work. The company was already consolidating throughout its Williston and Essex Junction campuses before General Dynamics signed a lease.

“We were having spotty use of that space,” Couture said.

Couture foresees an easy move for General Dynamics. He said there might be minor interior modifications but no exterior additions.

McGuire said he’s happy to have General Dynamics come to Williston, since it means the company is remaining in Vermont.

“It’s a big deal for the region to have retained these jobs,” McGuire said.

He said he’d only heard rumors about the company’s move before the announcement on Friday. Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig also said the news of the move came as a welcome surprise. He expects the hundreds of workers to benefit Williston’s economy by shopping and eating at local establishments.

“Other than increased traffic, I think it’ll be a good thing,” Macaig said.

Despite the optimistic outlook, General Dynamics has drawn criticism in the past. Demonstrators have protested the company’s products, and the fact that General Dynamics earns significant tax breaks from the state. In May 2008, 10 protestors were arrested at a demonstration at the company’s Burlington offices.

While Williston’s IBM campus is considered a secure location, McGuire said the town’s law enforcement resources could be affected if the company is frequently protested in the future.


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