August 23, 2014

Little Details

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More than a potato

March 17, 2011

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

When clouds lift over Ireland, it’s as if God Almighty flips a switch; illuminating emerald, sapphire and diamond jewels of landscape. Grainy images of fields, sea, and countless sheep assume crisp color and clarity. Soggy boots matter no more.

Hiking along the Dingle Peninsula on Ireland’s southwestern coast, my family visited abandoned 19th century stone cottages, ancient circles of stone and promontory forts jutting over jagged Atlantic cliffs. Blood-red bleeding hearts lined our path, dripping with dew or raindrops. We walked deliberately, taking care to avoid thick, black, Harry Potter-esque slugs, fat as a Castro cigar.

Balintaggart House, a hunting lodge built in 1703 and transformed into a cozy hostel, provided clean and comfortable accommodations. We shared the communal kitchen with other families and a group of students from France. Rhythms of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” reverberated amid pots and pans as a French-accented youth sang, “We don’t need no education…,” while chopping vegetables. Our daughter formed fast friendships with  Tawnya and Fionn, friendly Irish kids, as they swatted balls across a ping pong table.

Balintaggart House served as a soup kitchen during The Great Hunger (aka the Irish Potato Famine). The exterior courtyard revealed an enormous cauldron – a relic of the Famine – perched in a corner. My daughter and I role-played cooking and serving of soup for hungry tenant farmers as I tried to relate the tragic consequences of widespread crop failures.

St. Patrick’s Day seems like an appropriate time to reflect on this aspect of Irish history.  While some may enjoy green beer or corned beef, I’m opting to focus on the humble, yet very significant, potato.

Ireland was formally annexed to the United Kingdom in 1801 under the Act of Union.  This small nation experienced explosive growth in the first four decades of the 19th century. Population jumped from 4 million to 8 million – an expression of dire poverty.  Ireland’s predominant Roman Catholicism compounded its stepchild status in the Kingdom. This religious majority sustained and was substantially beaten down by centuries of Penal Laws imposed by the British. Access to education, land ownership and military service – traditional paths toward upward mobility – were hindered or blatantly denied. Land parcels of any significance remained firmly in the hands of British or Anglo-Irish families, most of whom resided in England.

Irish peasants toiled as tenant farmers, squeaking out a subsistent existence while raising crops and livestock for export to Mother England. Landowners collected their revenues – in the form of cash and food product. England’s hearty appetite for beef consumed vast swaths of fertile farmland. Raising cattle is far more resource intensive than growing crops for human consumption. It did not matter. The British felt entitled to their roasts with Yorkshire Pudding.

Small patches of land available to tenant farmers were too scant to support significant livestock. Potatoes were planted for their resilience as a crop and its ability to weather winter storage in dank root cellars. Flavor is a secondary consideration when one is threatened by hunger.

Although Ireland’s potato crop experienced earlier blights, the succession of widespread crop failures from 1845 – 1852 dealt a deathly blow to the Irish. The plant disease, Phytophthora infestans, transformed flowering fields of potatoes to rotting blackness.  Annual harvests were lost. Precious seed potatoes for the next planting season suffered similar fates.

Massive food exports to England continued. British Parliament watched with a casual eye, tossing a few occasional crumbs, as the Irish people suffered. Tenant farmers, unable to pay rent, experienced wholesale evictions. Displaced families and individuals flowed into cities in search of food and shelter from soup kitchens and workhouses. Disease and malnutrition extracted an enormous toll. Desperate, orphaned and approaching hopelessness, thousands upon thousands boarded so-called “coffin ships,” vessels of questionable seaworthiness pointed towards England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

An estimated 1.4 million Irish citizens died during the Famine, and an estimated 1.4 million emigrated in a desperate search for survival.

I am not of Irish descent, and yet, I harbor a special affinity for the small nation which, for centuries, lived within the shadow of a powerful and aggressive neighbor. I consider the many Vermonters I know with Irish blood flowing through their veins and wonder which, if any, are direct descendants and beneficiaries of that desperate migration.

Enjoy corned beef, Irish soda bread, Guinness, green beer, and that humble potato. Raise a mug or tea cup to the courage and resilience of a nation that found a way to persevere.

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

Places I’ve Played

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Not in the spring

March 17, 2011

By Bill Skiff

One afternoon in late March, I was standing in a barnyard on Pleasant Valley Road in Cambridge, talking with an old farmer friend. It was the kind of spring day that made you glad you’re alive: white clouds scattered the brilliant blue sky, patches of snow lingered on the ground, and the smell of mud thickened the air.

We were talking about spring and how wonderful it made us feel, how good it was to feel the sun again, to hear the birds singing, and to see steam drift up from local sugar houses.
At one point the farmer stopped talking. His eyes rose up toward  Mt. Mansfield, then swept over his meadows, and back up to the barn where new lambs were nursing. Finally, his gaze rested on my face.  He was quiet for a moment and then said, “Bill, I hope I don’t die in the spring.”

Every spring for years after that conversation, I have reflected on my friend’s wish. As I have grown  older, his words have taken on a more complex meaning. This morning, as I witnessed another spring approaching, I realized that I, too, do not want to die in the spring.

My friend passed on 10 years ago this February – just before spring. Recently, I felt compelled to write the following poem:

“Not in The Spring”
I hope I don’t die in the spring,
I want to taste Isham’s syrup
and hear the first Robin sing.

I want to hear Dad’s Farmall
burst into life,
I want to feel the sunshine warm
my strife.

Let me wet a worm in a brook
in Stowe.
You know, Lord. I just lived through
six months of snow.

Now February, that’s a good time
to explore.
But please Lord, in the spring,
don’t come knocking on my door.

The grandchildren are coming to
play on the farm,
So Lord, in the spring, please
don’t do me no harm.

When it’s thirty below
and my bones won’t go,
Come on down
and we’ll plan the show.

But when the snows
just melted
and the ground smells sweet
Lord, please stay up yonder
and rest your feet.

‘Cause Lord, I’m sure of just one thing;
I know I don’t want to die in the spring.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

Letters to the Editor

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March 17, 2011

Much anticipation for Bill’s tales

What a pleasure it is to read about the adventures of “Cambridge Billy,” aka Bill Skiff.  Being a native Vermonter, I can appreciate and relate to his experiences. Now you have to understand that Cambridge Billy was born and brought up in Lamoille County, not exactly a hot bed of learning. I mean, where else would you take piglets and paint them black and sell them for pet Portuguese pot-bellied pigs?

Cambridge Billy was born and raised on a farm in Cambridge. As we read about his adventures, one wonders when he got any farm work done. Our sympathies go out to his brother and sister, who got stuck with all the work, while Cambridge Billy was checking out the rats in the local dump.

As time evolved, we have had several iterations of Cambridge Billy’s talents. His portrayal of the circuit rider preacher can scare the heck out of a sinner and still get the collection plate loaded with coin.  There was his portrayal of the Vermont farmer cleaning out the gutter and still talking and passing out words of wisdom (his not mine). Who can forget the part about the Old Vermont skier with his Johnson pants and wool mittens and the long underwear with the trap door in the back?

Ah, yes. We wait in anticipation for the next flow of words of wisdom, Lamoille verbiage and musings from Cambridge Billy. It makes one wonder what is in the water in the Lamoille River.

Mike Coates, Williston

Schools not using a good example of funding

I live in Williston. My children attend Williston Schools. In the latest school paper, school officials thanked Shaw’s for donating to the school up to $750 from purchases of Frito-Lay and Pepsi products. This represents 1 percent of these product sales through May 19. That’s a lot of junk food.

It is my concern that our schools are accepting this money, and sending “thanks” via the school paper for this “gift.” It is sneaky advertising aimed at school districts who are crunched for money, and at families and children looking to schools for credibility.
Obesity rates are at an all-time high. In 1970, the obesity rate for children was 4 percent. In 2008, the rate was 20 percent (www.intermountainhealthcare.org). Soda consumption has doubled among females and tripled among males (www.everyday_wisdom.com/soft-drink-consumption). Soft drink consumption is a contributing factor to childhood obesity.

Frito-Lay products contain MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG, along with aspartame, a non-caloric sweetener, is known to cause brain tumors and neurological problems, including memory and attention issues (www.Mercola.com). These products clearly do not support a child’s learning. It is incongruent to be taught that junk foods are unhealthy, and then to have the school accept funding from the sources that make these foods.

If you’d like to support the schools financially, drop off a few dollars with one of the secretaries, earmarked for the CY Mentoring Program (which this money is to support), rather than buying the aforementioned junk foods. And if Shaw’s or other stores want to support schools in the future, I would urge them to give a percentage of fruits and vegetables sold, and the school to send out that notice in the school paper.

Esther Palmer, Williston

Government funding needs to change

The President, Congress and the news media say that everything is “on the table” that could be looked at for financial cuts. This is not true. The hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid are spent with American hard-earned tax dollars to buy the friendship of foreign governments and militaries, even when these recipients are not democracies, but outright dictatorships.  Why are these billions not “on the table?”

These foreign governments have never helped the United States in any crisis. This includes our latest one, when large financial institutions and Wall Street held this country hostage.

In addition, our Congressmen and even Federal prosecutors are offered positions in these same financial institutions. They then become board members for thousands of dollars in pay when they leave Congressional office. Rather than prosecuting these thieves, our Congress has chosen to bail them out.

Why does our Congress take these funds, which should instead be used to help the elderly, the homeless, our veterans, and the mentally ill? These are America’s helpless citizens who have to choose between paying for their life-sustaining medications or food.
Our Congress has an obligation to put financial institutions and Wall Street “on the table.” The problem is our Congressmen are all too frequently on the payroll of these very institutions. How can we describe these men and women as patriotic or moral?  We, the citizens of the United States, must demand term limits of no more than eight years for our Congressmen.

Was it simple near-sightedness that caused the passage of a law limiting the Presidency to two terms while neglecting the equal arm of our government’s potential to become career “generals.” The taxpayers then provide Congressmen with million dollar retirements and free top-notch medical care for the remainder of their lives. Wake up voters, and stop being ignorant.

Gorman Hebert, Williston

Detailing the shutdowns at Japanese nuclear power plants

The 3 of the 6 online boiling water reactors at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant in Japan were automatically shut down after the 8.9 Sendai earthquake on March 11.

About an hour later, their back up power systems were damaged by a tsunami and failed. Cooling is needed for this type of reactor to remove decay heat. Without cooling, the core of the reactors will get hot and boil away the coolant from around the nuclear fuel. This causes runaway heating.

The Unit 1 at Fukushima is a 439MW light water reactor that was built in 1967 and went online in 1970. It is scheduled to be retired this month.

The venting of coolant and the core meltdown at Unit 1 is a messy problem but is probably controllable. The latest word on the problems at Fukushima is that Unit 3 may be superheating as well. This reactor is a 784MW BWR that is fueled with something called mixed oxide fuel. Mixed oxide fuels are generally made from used nuclear materials or surplus weapons grade plutonium.  Mixed oxide is a combination of uranium and plutonium oxide pellets. Mixed oxide material fuels Fukushima reactor Unit 3.

Uranium oxide melts at 2,865 degrees Celsius, making it a pretty safe fuel. The melting point of plutonium oxide isn’t important because plutonium oxide spontaneously combusts on contact with air.

I hope they can keep the coolant that covers the core of Unit 3 at Fukushima, or we might see something rather unique. It isn’t possible to generate a nuclear explosion from a reactor, but unlike nuclear weapons that contain less than a hundred pounds of fissionable material, nuclear reactors contain many tons of these highly reactive materials.

Shelley Palmer, Williston

Support the chuck wagon

We’re writing to introduce an idea we had to support the Williston Community Food Shelf. We’re calling it the Williston Chuck Wagon – a mobile food drive.

On the weekends, we’ll be canvassing a Williston Village neighborhood (we’ll rotate neighborhoods) to collect donations for the food shelf. We’ll be on foot and bike (collecting the food in a bike trailer – that’s the chuck wagon part) and we’ll wear red pinnies so people will start to recognize us. We’ll call the Williston Police Department to let them know what neighborhood we’ll be canvassing that weekend, and if your neighborhood has an association, we’ll do our best to contact the association in advance so they can let you know we’ll be in the area.

In addition to current non-perishable food items, we will also be happy to collect personal hygiene items and pet food.

Thank you in advance for your support.

Chris Castano and Joe Castano, Williston

Guest Column

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The politics of liquor control

March 17, 2011

By Richard H. Allen

When Jim and Lucy McCullough granted me access to their family papers for my research on Smith Wright and his Williston cold storage business of the late 1800s, I anticipated uncovering new clues about the town’s history. I knew Wright, Jim’s great grandfather, had been a major figure there and I hoped his papers and letters would add significantly to the written record.

Wright’s business dealt with poultry, eggs, cheese, and butter. As a result, many of the letters and invoices centered on food products shipped from and to Williston via the railroad. Every once in a while, documents surfaced that shed light on some of the matters Wright dealt with in his capacity as a civic leader, such as liquor control.

Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, and P. Jeffrey Potash describe the role of liquor control in our state in their book “Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont.” The temperance movement was active in the state as early as 1817 when the state legislature was convinced to investigate the role of intoxicating spirits. In the 1830s, temperance societies were prevalent across Vermont. Some resistance to temperance was put up by farmers who converted much of their apple crops into hard cider.

In the 1840s the anti-liquor movement switched from a temperance focus to outright prohibition and the state legislature responded with harsher laws. “A system of licensing of the sale of liquor by towns and counties became the central inderdictive procedure. In 1844 the General Assembly enacted a bill with a local option approach, barring towns from licensing the sale of alcoholic beverages that had not provided formal authorization to a board of county commissioners as grantors of licenses,” according to the authors.

The concern over liquor consumption was strong enough to have the state require mandatory temperance education in schools in 1882. This was the only area of curriculum prescribed by the state at that time.

Two special days in Vermont were accompanied by excessive drinking: Election Day and June Training Day when the town militias were required to practice military drills each year. The event each June often turned into a celebration for the whole town and was accompanied by constant toasting.

Three times Williston resident Smith Wright was pulled into the politics of liquor control in his capacity as a county commissioner. One of his duties was to appoint a liquor agent in some towns, like Huntington. He received letters of recommendation for certain people saying they were trustworthy and should be reappointed, and sometimes others wrote against candidates.

The controversy in Huntington was preceded by a vote at town meeting to have no liquor agent in town.

From the town records of March 4, 1884: “A motion was made that we have no agent to sell liquor in the town the ensuing year, on this motion the vote by hand raising was as follows. In favor 28, against 53 and the motion was declared rejected.”

So the challenge for Huntington residents in April 1884 was to lobby for two candidates for the position. Smith Wright received two letters signed by a handful of Huntington residents concerning the appointment of Mr. H. M. Small as town liquor agent. According to the letters, Small had kept a hotel a few years before and “sold liquor to such excess that the authorities prosecuted and fined him and the past year…at election time his house has been the headquarters of the Democrats for liquor.”  You have to wonder if political party loyalty played a part here. It was stated that most of Small’s supporters were “men that make a practice of drinking more or less.” Small is accused of selling “cider by the jug and pail full to men on the Sabath (sic) and all days of the week to men to get drunk on.”

The alternative candidate, Mrs. Rebbeca Sweet, was described as a “good woman” and as having the support of the temperance folks in town. The convenience of buying liquor was also a factor. The author of this letter made a pitch to have the liquor agent “kept at the north village as most of us are at that end of the town going to Richmond every Monday.” Huntington has two village centers. The north village is now called the Lower Village and the south village is Huntington Center. Needless to say, the signers were not in favor of Wright appointing Small as the liquor agent in Huntington.

Wright also received a letter from Mrs. Sweet asking to be reappointed as liquor agent, claiming the support of the board of selectmen and forty other residents. It is not clear from the record how this particular controversy was resolved.

The next year a letter of support for Mrs. Calvin Howe as liquor agent in Essex for the sale of liquor “for medicinal & mechanical purposes… having given general & universal satisfaction in that capacity for a number of years” was submitted.  Apparently acting as a liquor agent was an approved position for a woman.

Williston was not immune to the evils of liquor at this time according to an anonymous observer who wrote to the Burlington Clipper on May 18, 1882 with this opinion: “A Williston clergyman says that during a long pastorate in that Village, he has never seen but one intoxicated man. Perhaps he is color blind.”

The battles over liquor control built steadily through the 1800s in the country and climaxed with the era of outright prohibition in the 1920s.

Richard Allen retired last year after a 40-year teaching career, including 37 years in Williston.

CVU actors bring laughs to “Tons of Money”

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March 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Aubrey Allington, played by Jameson Hurd (right), comes into an inheritance from his brother’s will. Aubrey hopes that this influx of “Tons of Money” will be the answer to all of his troubles for he and his wife, Louise, played by Olivia Cazayoux. (Courtesy photo by Candy Padula)

Anyone in need of a good laugh would do well to check out Champlain Valley Union High School’s upcoming production, “Tons of Money.” The play, a British farce taking place in the 1920s, involves a wide-ranging cast of characters, each of them trying to get their hands on a fistful of dough.

Director Candy Padula said while “Tons of Money” has decidedly British humor, the storyline and subplots are funny and accessible to all audiences. Several years ago, Padula directed the same play with high school students and found the results exciting. She wanted to try it again with CVU students.

“When you’re looking to cast a large group of people, you want a play that has a lot of roles like this one,” Padula said.

The play tells the story of a couple – Aubrey Henery Maitland Allington and his wife, Louise – who have fallen on hard economic times. While the couple has run out of money, they continue to live as if they are rich. But they can’t play that game forever.

Soon, Aubrey learns that, if he passes away, his cousin will receive a large inheritance. So the Allington’s hatch a scheme to fake Aubrey’s death, recover the money, and pay off their debtors. Of course, nothing goes according to plan once the Allington’s large house staff gets wind of the ploy.

British playwright Arthur Valentine wrote the play in the 1920s, which became a popular stage production and even a feature film in 1930.

To bring more variety to the production, Padula and the CVU cast decided to add music not originally part of “Tons of Money.”

Padula said a separate chorus of four students sings several 1920s-era tunes, with adapted lyrics that reflect the play’s storyline.

“Our singing ensemble gives us little clues to what’s going on in the play through their songs,” Padula said.

The combination of comedy, action and music should balance “Tons of Money” quite well, she said. It also helps the cast is a group of talented students, she added.

Senior Jameson Hurd and junior Olivia Cazayoux play the Allingtons. Other actors, such as sophomore Evan Cohen and senior Rosemary Moore, play the Allington’s butler and maid, respectively.

Moore said she’s enjoyed her role as Simpson the maid. The character’s “dim-witted” nature allows for many comedic moments, she said. Moore said rehearsals have been fun and she looks forward to opening night.

“The rehearsals have been very productive and fun, and the cast is just having so much fun together, especially in our final week,” Moore said. “It seems like things are really coming together.”

Cohen agrees.

“The experience of this show as a whole is probably my favorite so far at CVU, but hopefully there will be more to come,” he said.

Performance dates for “Tons of Money” are Thursday and Friday, March 17 and 18, at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee show on Saturday, March 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for CVU students, children, faculty and staff. General admission tickets are $7.

Teacher contract is official

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Educators, School boards ratify three-year contract

March 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

A three-year contract for teachers in Chittenden South Supervisory Union recently became official this week after its ratification by School Boards and educators.
After the Charlotte School Board ratified the contract Tuesday night, it became an official document. Charlotte was the only school board in the CSSU to not approve the contract unanimously; the vote was 4-1.

The three-year contract, which runs from the current 2010-2011 school year until the 2012-2013 school year, gives CSSU teachers as much as 8 percent in raises. Teachers will also pay more for their health insurance premiums as the contract progresses.

The local teachers union, the Chittenden South Education Association, ratified the contract on March 3, according to lead negotiator Lisa Bisbee. She said teachers voted by voice instead of ballot. A vast majority expressed favor in the contract, while there were only a few dissenters, said Bisbee, a special educator at Williston Central School.

On March 9, the Hinesburg, Shelburne, Williston and Champlain Valley Union High School Board ratified the contract. All boards supported the contract in unanimous decisions.

Along with the step increase stipulation, eligible teachers will receive a 2 percent salary increase for the current 2010-2011 school year in the new contract. Raises will then increase by 3 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, and another 3 percent in the 2012-2013 school year.

While salaries will go up, teachers will pay more for their health insurance premiums. Each year, teachers will increase their payments from 13 percent to 15 percent by the end of the three year contract. Teachers started contributing the 13 percent the week of March 1.

Teachers and board members had been locked in contract negotiations since late 2009. The negotiations took on combative tones at times, with threats lobbied back and forth in regards to possible contract impositions and teacher strikes. Eventually School Board members and union negotiators reached agreement on Feb. 17.

Most School Boards in CSSU developed their 2011-2012 school budgets to reflect a 2 percent salary increase, not a 3 percent increase. As a result, boards have asked school administrators to find areas of the budgets where they can close the shortfalls.

At CVU, Principal Sean McMannon told the board he felt confident he could close the money gap without reducing staffing or services. The high school needs to find $54,000 to reconcile the 3 percent salary increase.

“We’ve had larger shortfalls than this that we’ve successfully navigated,” said Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen during the March 9 School Board meeting.

Observer correspondent Adam White contributed to the reporting for this article.

Town Hall annex evacuated after gas leak

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March 17, 2011

A small gas leak forced the evacuation of all employees in the Town Hall Annex Tuesday morning. Williston Fire Capt. Tim Gerry said a town employee smelled a gas odor around 8:30 a.m. while working outside. Firefighters asked town workers to leave the building in order to safely investigate the source, Gerry said. Vermont Gas arrived shortly after the evacuation and discovered the gas meter had corroded by a small amount, releasing small amounts of gas.

Gerry said firefighters tested gas levels within the annex and found no elevated levels. Vermont Gas replaced the meter and employees were let back into the building around 9:30 a.m.

Williston’s planning, recreation and public works departments are all housed in the Town Hall Annex.

­ —Tim Simard

Feathery friends become family for one local student

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March 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

From left to right; Emily Scott, Amelia Dodds, Hadley Erdman, Erin Scott and Megan Ammon hold recently hatched chicks, part of Emily's science fair project. (Observer photo by Tim Simard)

Despite their tiny sizes and calm demeanors, five chicks that recently hatched in Tad Dippel’s science classroom made quite the racket Monday afternoon. That’s because Williston Central School eighth grade student Emily Scott was peering into the chicks’ incubator, petting each one on the head.

The chicks’ excitement flowed through the room, which paraeducator Averill McDowell said happens every time Scott approaches them. The chicks seem to know she is their protector, McDowell said.

Touching each chick on the head, Scott said their names one by one – Snowday, Ketchup, Fluffy, Cheese and Jim. Each answered with an expressive chirp.

“It’s amazing how they respond to her,” McDowell said.

In preparing for next week’s Science Fair at Williston Central, Scott, a student with Down syndrome, wanted to hatch chickens. One of her favorite movies is “Fly Away Home,” a true story about a young girl who raises Canadian geese and delivers them to a wildlife refuge in a unique way. While raising geese sounded like a stretch, hatching chickens was the next best thing.

Using the science classroom’s incubator, Scott and McDowell put 16 eggs under a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and let nature take its course. To broaden the educational scope of the project, McDowell suggested installing a webcam so people could watch the eggs’ progression online. It also acted as a way for Scott and her mother, Williston Central Technology Integrationist Linda Scott, to monitor the eggs when not at school.

That’s how the Scotts knew the eggs were about to hatch during the historic March 7 snowstorm. As record snowfall pounded Williston, the Scotts rushed to Williston Central knowing full well some of the eggs were hatching. To add to the drama, the incubator’s temperature had increased to dangerous levels.

“I literally had to shovel through feet of snow just to get to the entrance doors,” Linda Scott said.

In the end, the Scotts were able to save five eggs from the original 16. And as heavy snow piled up outside, Snowday was born.

Cheese and Ketchup, named after Emily Scott’s favorite foods, arrived soon afterwards. Jim came next, which Emily named after her father, Linda’s husband.

Fluffy struggled to get out of the shell a few days later, which Linda and McDowell believed wouldn’t survive. But Emily Scott came to the rescue. As the little bird struggled for air, she ripped the shell away and freed Fluffy.

Today, the chicks are the hit of Williston Central. And thanks to the webcam, which includes both picture and sound, people from all over the country can join and watch the young chickens’ antics. Emily Scott’s classmates in Full House told their family and friends across the country to log in and watch the chicks’ live as they play with each other in the incubator.

“I told all my family to go on and see and they’re checking in every day,” said Full House student Megan Ammon.

The webcam drew viewers from as far away as California, Linda Scott said. Her 92-year-old aunt even checked in via her home computer, offering congratulations to Emily Scott on her project.

“I never would’ve thought this would take off like it did,” Linda Scott said.

Once next week’s science fair comes to an end, the little chicks will find a new home. McDowell’s family owns a farm in Stowe and all five chickens will arrive there shortly. McDowell and the Scotts plan on delivering them personally, with Emily Scott visiting as often as she wants.

Holding one of the chicks gently in her hands, Emily Scott has certainly grown fond of her new feathery family.

“I love them,” she said.

Williston Central School’s Science Fair takes place on Thursday, March 24 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. To view the chicks’ live webcam, visit http://www2.cssu.org/wsdvt/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=290811.

Residents debate Town Plan

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March 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

After more than a year of updating Williston’s Town Plan, the Planning Commission held public testimony for the first time Tuesday night, hoping to gauge the public’s opinion on the document. While many of the eight attendees commended the commission’s work in updating the plan that helps guide the town’s direction, one taxpayer took the commission to task for not rewriting a key section.

Jeff Atwood, a local developer who plans to build a small affordable housing subdivision off North Williston Road, said the Planning Commission ignored a crucial part of the Town Plan that deals with Williston’s complex growth management system. Chapter five of the 12-chapter plan notes that Williston should concentrate growth around Taft Corners.

By limiting growth in certain parts of Williston and not allowing some developers to construct their projects all at once, the management system makes it impossible for affordable housing to exist, Atwood said.

“If anyone on this board thinks chapter five has worked for the town so far, I’ll happily debate you all day or debate you all week on this, because it’s wrong,” Atwood said.
Williston must update its Town Plan every five years, like every community in Vermont, in accordance with state law. The Selectboard last ratified a Williston Town Plan in February 2006, which was a substantial rewrite of previous documents.

Commission member Kevin Batson told the audience the group rewrote about one-third of the Town Plan, while updating the rest of the document for clarity. Rewrites and additions included sections on open space, energy conservation and potential zoning changes.

Roger Crouse, a resident who lives along Lake Iroquois, praised the Planning Commission for proposing a zoning overlay district for the lake area. The district could allow the town to adopt zoning laws that differ from what is allowed in that rural part of Williston. The Town Plan also suggests that Williston continue its efforts in cleaning up the lake.

“We certainly have our challenges out there, so I’m glad the plan addresses that,” Crouse said.

The Planning Commission decided not to rewrite the section detailing Williston’s growth management system, which encourages development around Taft Corners and limits what growth can occur in rural areas. Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau explained the system to those in attendance, stating that Williston allows for 80 new housing units to be built per year. Almost two-thirds of those units are available only in Taft Corners.

Atwood stated several times that Williston has flawed development policies. While the Town Plan encourages affordable housing, the way growth management doles out housing allocation to builders over several years instead of all at once destroys any potential for developers to construct homes that can be sold at affordable costs.
Planning commissioners disagreed with Atwood, saying the Town Plan encourages housing opportunities and affordable homes around Taft Corners, near bus lines and supermarkets. It’s the main reason Vermont designated Taft Corners as the state’s first official “growth center,” commissioners argued.

“That surprises me that we’re going to be selective on where we have affordable housing,” Atwood said. “It’s almost isolationist.”

Commission members admitted that they find parts of the growth management system flawed, but decided to let it runs its course. The current system is due to expire in 2015, at which time town planners will make available more housing units.

At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to bring the draft before the Selectboard.

PHOTOS: CVU wrestling

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March 10, 2011

Courtesy photos by Jennifer Olson

Ryan Stearns competes at the New England Interscholastic wrestling meet in New Haven, Conn. last weekend in the 130-pound division.