June 16, 2019

Guest Column (3/25/10)

Closing Yankee is the right choice

March 25, 2010

By Elizabeth Skarie

Feb. 24 was a historic day. The Senate’s decision to deny a 20-year license renewal for Vermont Yankee marked the first time in U.S. history that a state legislature voted to close a nuclear power plant. It has been clear for years that Entergy Louisiana cannot be trusted to safely operate Vermont Yankee past its scheduled retirement date in 2012.

In 2004, we saw a transformer fire that caused the plant to close down. The next year, a leak of radioactive tritium occurred that went unreported until this year. In 2007, a pipe 6 feet in diameter carrying water through a cooling tower broke and the tower collapsed. Shortly after that, our Department of Health reported that 30 percent more radiation was being released from Vermont Yankee after the company decided to increase power output. This year, we’ve seen leaks of tritium into the groundwater surrounding the plant that are 38 times the federal drinking water standards.

During this time, Entergy Louisiana has been doing everything it can to stick Vermonters with the cost of cleaning up after their blunders. The company is working to spin off Yankee and five other aging reactors into a separate company called Enexus that would be $3.5 billion in debt from the start. The decommissioning fund to clean up the reactor site is over $600 million short of what industry experts predict it will cost to clean up what is quickly becoming a radioactive waste dump down in Vernon.

In the days since the historic vote to close Vermont Yankee, we’ve heard the usual defenders of Entergy call the Senate’s action a mistake. Mike Benevento’s recent Observer column on March 11 serves as a good example of the scare tactics that have been employed to make it seem like we have no other option but nuclear power. The bulk of Benevento’s argument comes from John McClaughry, the vice president of what Mike calls the “nonpartisan” Ethan Allen Institute. For those who aren’t familiar with EAI, it receives funding from the Cato Institute, a national free-market think tank that denies the existence of global warming and takes money from ExxonMobil.

Benevento and McClaughry paint a grim picture of our state without Vermont Yankee with job losses, rising electric bills, inconsistent power sources and a dependency on coal or a new nuclear plant. Fortunately, none of what they say is true.

> Vermont Yankee employs only 218 Vermonters. According to Ken Picard’s column in Seven Days on March 10, when Maine Yankee was decommissioned, as many as 430 workers were employed through the eight-year process to clean up the reactor site. Other benefits for the county after decommissioning were “strength in the real estate market, more new home construction and increases in the average price of a home sold.”

> In December, Entergy offered a new contract to Vermont’s utilities for half the power that we now get from Vermont Yankee at a 50 percent price hike. The price would rise by 3 percent every year after 2012, and the state would only receive one-tenth of its power from Vermont Yankee.

> Vermont Yankee accounts for only 2 percent of the electricity on the New England grid, and currently there is a huge surplus of power out there. Most of the electricity generation in New England comes from natural gas, a relatively clean power source. The Department of Public Service estimated in 2007 that efficiency alone could replace the output from Vermont Yankee, and our utilities have already found alternatives, including a wind farm in New Hampshire.

I want to personally praise the leadership of Senate President Peter Shumlin, as well as each of the other 26 senators that voted against the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. These legislators were able to step past the scare tactics that Entergy and the Ethan Allen Institute have used. With recent polling showing that two-thirds of Vermonters support Yankee’s closure, the Senate’s decision was mandated by the people, and the House should follow suit. I look forward to the day when we have localized and sustainable energy sources in Vermont, and no longer have to think about Entergy and Vermont Yankee.


Elizabeth Skarie is a Williston resident.


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25th anniversary issue: Old March news from Williston (3/25/10)

March 25, 2010

• In 1995, actor David Hyde Pierce, who played Niles on the hit sitcom “Frasier,” was the celebrity guest at the Stern Center’s Oscar Night benefit on March 27. His sister-in-law, Pam Pierce, was chairwoman of the benefit committee.

“It’s a good cause,” David Hyde Pierce said at the time.

The event raised $8,000 for the nonprofit organization.

• The Snyder Companies received conceptual approval in 1995 for a 174-lot subdivision of James Brennan’s property off Mountain View Road. That subdivision went on to become the Brennan Woods neighborhood.


    File photo
Deb Beckett is sworn in as Williston's town clerk during a ceremony in Kuwait in 2005. Beckett was serving in Kuwait as a member of the Vermont National Guard.

• The Williston/Richmond Rotary Club formed in 1995.

• Ken Bessette Sr., author of the “I Remember When” column in the Williston Whistle, was feted at a party at the paper’s offices in 2000 for his 94th birthday.

Bessette’s secret to a long and happy life: “Just love everybody!” he said.

• At Town Meeting 2000, residents agreed to vote on future school budgets via Australian ballot. The vote passed 228-166.

Mike Coates, upon walking up to the Thomas Chittenden statue in Montpelier, said, “I swear I saw a tear in his eye.”

• In 2005, Deb Beckett was sworn in as town clerk during a ceremony in Kuwait. Beckett, who serves in the Vermont National Guard, had notary Mary Griswold swear her in and faxed the document to Williston Town Hall. Beckett may soon be deployed again, this time to Iraq.

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Around Town (3/25/10)

March 25, 2010


Police chief interviews to begin next month

By the time of the soft application deadline of March 19, the town had received approximately 40 resumes from candidates looking to become Williston’s next police chief.

Town Manager Rick McGuire updated the Selectboard on the search process Monday, saying he hopes to begin the interview process in the second week of April. McGuire is screening the applications and putting together an interview committee of four or five people, which includes Selectboard member Judy Sassorossi. He wants to narrow the list of potential candidates to less than 10 before starting the interviews.

McGuire said applications came from Vermont and as far as California.

“We want to have someone on board by July 1,” McGuire said.


Braking through the village

Drivers should take note of some new signs while driving through Williston Village on Vermont 2A. The speed limit was reduced last week from 35 mph to 30 mph as part of an effort to improve safety in the area.


NEFCU offers scholarships

New England Federal Credit Union is accepting applications for its 2010 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Scholarships. Three STEM scholarships of $3,000 each will be awarded.

Applicants must be NEFCU members and pursuing a degree in biology sciences, physical sciences, mathematical sciences, computer and information services, geosciences, engineering or technology areas related to the listed fields.

Scholarships will be awarded to students who best demonstrate commitment to their field. Applications must be postmarked by April 30.

For more information or an application, visit any branch or nefcu.com or call 802-879-8790.


Cub Scouts help Children’s Hospital

Williston Cub Scouts raised more than $1,000 for the Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

The Webelos Cub Scout Den 2 of Williston Pack 692 collected loose change from December through March for its Big Change Roundup.

Last year, the scouts collected $690.


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Caring for Allen Brook (3/25/10)

March 25, 2010

By Greg Duggan

Observer staff

Williston recently received nearly $10,000 to continue restoration efforts along the Allen Brook.

Williston was one of 22 organizations and towns to receive a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, or LCBP, which doled out $135,778 for projects that benefit the Lake Champlain watershed.

Of that money, $9,513 will help Williston continue its efforts to create a vegetated riparian buffer along an impaired portion of the Allen Brook. The brook is included on the state’s list of impaired waterways for stormwater management and bacteria, said Eric Howe, technical coordinator for the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Most of the money going to Williston will fund the purchase of trees, shrubs and other supplies, Howe said. Some of the money will be used to hire a consultant to review parts of the project.

“Prior to doing the actual plantings, however, the recipients will use a watershed model specific to Williston to prioritize parcels along Allen Brook for revegetation, in order to optimize their resources,” Howe wrote in an e-mail to the Observer.

Williston planner Jessica Andreoletti submitted the grant application. She could not be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Howe explained that a review committee of experts from around the Lake Champlain Basin reviewed the grant applications. More than $275,000 was requested under the category of Aquatic Invasive Species/Pollution Prevention, and Williston was chosen to receive some of the nearly $60,000 available in the category.

“This project addresses one of the highest LCBP priorities in the LCBP Lake Champlain Management Plan, Opportunities for Action, which is to reduce phosphorus pollution to Lake Champlain,” Howe wrote in his e-mail. “It also addresses another LCBP priority, to protect and restore stream, wetland and riparian habitat.”

Howe said the plantings along the Allen Brook could begin in April 2011. Eventually, Howe wrote, the goal is for the plants to “mature, and provide shade and habitat structure for the waterway, stabilize the streambanks to prevent eroding and reduce sedimentation in the tributary, and possibly even help to restore some of the fish populations and other critters that were in this system before it was degraded.”


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Towns seek to keep more sales tax revenue (3/25/10)

Legislation would slice state’s collection fees

March 25, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer correspondent

Lawmakers may cut fees the state charges for administering the local option sales tax, a change supporters say will restore fairness and boost revenue for Williston and other communities that collect the tax.

The 1 percent levy is tacked onto the state sales tax by Williston and 10 other cities and towns around Vermont. It is a major source of revenue in Williston, generating more than $2 million annually and funding about a third of the municipal budget.

But municipalities that have the tax don’t get to keep all the money. First, 30 percent is deducted for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. The PILOT program compensates communities that host state-owned buildings and land, which are not subject to property taxes.

Then the Vermont Tax Department charges a $10.80 fee to process tax returns. Most of the fee, which applies to each of the returns filed periodically by retailers, is deducted from sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to municipalities. Thirty percent of the fee is funded through the PILOT program.

The legislative delegation from Bennington County has pushed to reduce the processing fee, with support from representatives from other towns that levy the tax, including Williston. They assert it has become a moneymaker for the Tax Department.

“As you are well aware, local governments are struggling mightily these days to hold the line on taxes and at the same time maintain services,” states a letter from Sen. Richard Sears and other Bennington County legislators to Vermont Tax Commissioner Richard Westman.“They need and deserve every cent that should rightfully come their way.”

An analysis showed that the fee in the 2008-09 fiscal year was 24 percent above what it actually cost to administer the tax. So lawmakers proposed that the fee be cut to $8.24.

The issue is now being debated in the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham. Legislators have tentatively agreed to compromise by reducing the fee to $9.24.

“It seemed an equitable thing to do,” Obuchowski said. “State government shouldn’t be making a profit off the work it does for towns.”

In a written response to lawmakers, Westman said it costs about $429,000 to administer the tax. Though automated billing and other measures have produced efficiencies, he said, collecting the tax is still expensive and time-consuming to administer.

Rep. Terry Macaig, D-Williston, who has attended hearings on the issue, said the change would produce about an extra $8,000 for the town, a tiny fraction of the $2.6 million the tax is projected to generate this fiscal year.

“It’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing,” he said.

Ken Jones, policy analyst with the Vermont Tax Department, said the fee reduction will provide less than $10,000 in additional revenue for towns and cities that have the local option tax.

“These are pretty small numbers,” he said. “But this is more of a fairness question.”

Legislation reducing the fee is expected to be included in a miscellaneous tax bill that will likely be passed toward the end of the current session.

Obuchowski acknowledged that reducing the collection fee further squeezes state revenue at a time the state is coping with a massive budget shortfall. But he noted towns are also hurting and looking for anything that can maximize revenue.

“It’s a drop in the bucket but it’s indicative of the kind of digging going on out there statewide,” Obuchowski said. “It may seem like a little thing, but to towns it’s a big thing.”

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Looking for legitimacy (3/25/10)

Community Justice Board seeks official status

March 25, 2010

By Greg Duggan

Observer staff

Since forming in 2001, the Williston Reparative Board has worked with hundreds of nonviolent offenders to help them avoid prosecution in the criminal justice system. Now, the board wants formal recognition from the town.

The Reparative Board, which recently changed its name to the Community Justice Board, works with people who have committed a crime in Williston. Many offenders go before the board after shoplifting from one of Williston’s many retailers. Other cases address vandalism. Most of the cases are referred to the Community Justice Board by police, and occur before a person is charged with a crime so that offenders have a chance to avoid compiling a criminal record.

“It allows the town to have a much more timely and direct response to the initial law-breaking behavior,” Derek Miodownik, restorative systems administrator for the Department of Corrections, told the Observer.

Miodownik appeared before the Selectboard on Monday night, along with Community Justice Board member and coordinator Adina Panitch, to request that the board be formally recognized as a town body. Such a change could make it easier for the board to obtain grants from the Department of Corrections; Miodownik said the department prefers to provide funding to municipalities due to their financial stability.

Official recognition would also give the Community Justice Board better access to training, technical assistance and quality assurance offered by the Department of Corrections to the 15 or so existing community justice groups in the state.

“Basically, they’re plugging into a mainframe of local, municipal and statewide community justice relationships,” Miodownik said.

Panitch also told the Selectboard that becoming officially recognized by the town would provide legitimacy to the Community Justice Board and its 14 volunteers.

“No one knows what we’re doing,” Panitch said, adding that becoming a town board would “make us feel more official to the people we work with.”

Rather than punishing offenders, the so-called “restorative process” — not punishment, Miodownik said — aims to teach the offenders how their actions harmed the community, store or individual victim.

The Community Justice Board has increased its meetings to four per month, up from twice monthly last year. At each meeting, two or three board members sit down with an offender to talk about that person’s crime. Panitch said discussion tends to focus on how the crime has affected the community, and what the offender can do to repair that damage. The board then determines a course of action for the offender — typically some type of community service and sometimes a letter of apology to the victim.

If the offender meets all the requirements of the restorative process, the incident is expunged from any criminal record. If the requirements aren’t met, the Community Justice Board refers the case back to police so the criminal justice system can prosecute the crime.

Occasionally, the board handles probation cases, and in those instances operates under the auspices of the Department of Corrections. That would remain the case if the Selectboard opts to officially recognize the Community Justice Board.

Selectboard member Ted Kenney asked if the town would need liability insurance for the Community Justice Board.

“I would like to see the town have liability insurance so we’re not paying a legitimate damage awarded for someone because it didn’t occur to us to get an insurance policy,” Kenney told the Observer.

He was unsure if existing insurance would cover the Community Justice Board.

Selectboard members did not make a decision on the issue Monday, and Town Manager Rick McGuire expects the issue to come up again at the board’s next meeting on April 5.

Panitch and Miodownik hope that a community service will truly become a community entity.

“People are often very grateful for having had this opportunity,” Panitch said. “They feel they made that one stupid mistake, and this has given them the chance to really clear their conscience, and their record as well.”

Anyone interested in joining the Community Justice Board should contact Panitch at 288-1555 or Ruth Skiff at 878-2381.


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Student-directed musical debuts Thursday

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Cast members sing ‘Comedy Tonight,’ the opening number to Champlain Valley Union High’s latest musical, during rehearsal Monday. ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’ opens Thursday night at 7 p.m. See story below.

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CVUs Gannon named best in state (3/18/10)

Redhawk player leads All-Star team to win

March 18, 2010

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Just a few days after learning that she is Gatorade’s Vermont high school girls basketball player of the year, Champlain Valley Union High senior Allison Gannon made the selection look top notch by leading her Division 1 and 2 North All-Stars to a convincing 86-47 victory over the South at Windsor High School on Saturday.


    File photo by Shane Bufano
Champlain Valley Union High’s Allison Gannon (11) boxes out a player from North Country Union High during a game in January. Gannon was recently named Gatorade’s Vermont high school girls basketball player of the year.

The four-year varsity starter scored a game-high 15 points as the North got off to a quick start and never looked back.

“We were ahead 18-0 in the first six-and-a-half minutes,” Gannon said.

The CVU frontcourt veteran said she knew almost all the players on her team, including high scoring Burlington High center Hannah Senftleber, with whom she alternated in the low post and outside.

“It was good not to be double-teamed,” she said.

In helping lead the Redhawks to a 17-5 record and the Division 1 quarterfinals, Gannon averaged 14.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, nearly three steals and one blocked shot while drawing a crowd of defenders when she went into an inside position.

But she was also able to nail shots from downtown, as proved by a three-point bucket in the galaxy contest Saturday.

Gannon is the first CVU basketball player to win the prized Gatorade honor, for which athletic ability, academic achievement and outstanding character are among considerations.

Last year, she was named to the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association’s Dream Dozen girls underclass stars and to the Burlington Free Press All-State third team.

This fall, Gannon will be pounding the books at Oberlin College in Ohio, where she is looking forward to continuing her roundball career.

In the meantime, she hopes to connect locally with a women’s league to keep the skills at a high level.


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Ski runs raise money for lights (3/18/10)

March 18, 2010

Champlain Valley Union High alpine ski coach Mike Minnerly likes his athletes to make plenty of downhill runs, but Sunday at Cochran’s Ski Area might have been a little much.

But as a result, $11,000 was raised for lights at the facility operated by Vermont’s first family of skiing.

According to Minnerly, some 43 adults and ski team members from CVU and Mount Mansfield Union High turned out for the fund-raiser, which the coach said “went great” despite being “a little wet.”

He said that over the two hours, the skiers traversed 1 million vertical feet in 1,667 runs.

Ski area officials hope to have the lights installed in time for next winter’s ski season.

The lighting, while a major benefit to the ski area, will also help the area’s high school alpine teams.

“In the past we have had to have our team leave school early for practice sessions during the week, not to mention weekday meets around the state,” Minnerly said. “Now we can practice at night and keep the kids in school.”

Additional information on the fund drive and the lights can be found online at www.cochranskiarea.com.


— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Two CVU seniors skate in All Star contest (3/18/10)

March 18, 2010

Their Austin Conference team got drilled 10-2 by the Harris Conference on Saturday, but Champlain Valley Union High seniors made their mark in the Essex Rotary Key Bank All Star Hockey Classic at the Essex Skating facility.

Former Redhawk forward Sam Parent scored one of the two Austin Conference goals. CVU goalie Mark Albertson, sharing time between the pipes with Brattleboro High’s Mark Miller, had 24 of the 41 stops the two registered.

Nick Boyce, from Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans, led the winners with three goals.


— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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