October 14, 2019

Letters to the Editor

Kids and nature

As a parent of a young child, I try to spend time outside with my son every day in one of Williston’s abundant green spaces. Yet unsafe and inappropriate conditions in many places mean that kids spend most of their time indoors, missing out on the richness of the natural world and suffering from what some have called “nature deficit disorder.”

In 2010, Burlington filmmaker Camilla Rockwell made a film about the relationship between kids and nature, and its challenges. On Monday, Oct. 1, Williston Green Initiatives and the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library will co-sponsor a free community screening of this film, “Mother Nature’s Child,” with a Q&A afterwards with Liz Thompson, local mother and biologist who is featured in the film. Refreshments and childcare will be provided, and the event goes from 5:30-7:30. I hope to see you there!

— Allaire Diamond

In support of Tom Nelson and Jay Michaud

Jim McCullough and Terry Macaig stopped by my home recently while campaigning and each dropped off some nice leaflets. Each leaflet touts the candidate’s support of the business community — Jim’s goes so far as to be the first line under his name claiming to be “a voice for business.” I decided I would check the veracity of these claims. Over the past three legislative terms, Jim has averaged just 28 percent agreement on the Vermont Chamber of Commerce Legislative Report Card. Twenty-eight percent is hardly a voice for business. Terry has fared little better, with an average of 36 percent in his two terms. I like both Jim and Terry and have interacted with them on several occasions, but Williston needs new representation in Montpelier. I believe Tom Nelson and Jay Michaud will work to lessen the burden of taxes and government regulation that stifles investment in business and drives our youth out of state to find employment.

Tom’s experience as a state police captain shows he has the leadership qualities necessary to work with and for people with varied interests. He can work to protect our environment, help our schools, and create a better economic climate without further encumbering our taxpayers and job creators.

Jay’s experience starting and running several businesses indicates his understanding of the real economic world. He knows what it takes to make a payroll and also knows which legislation coming out of Montpelier would hinder expansion and investment. He has also proven to be a calm and steady voice of reason on the Williston Selectboard.

I have no doubt that Jay and Tom will each use their background and experience to be superb representatives for Williston and all of Vermont.

— Jake Mathon

Should marijuana be legal?

The proposition of a medical marijuana dispensary has gotten me thinking about the topic that has been argued over for decades. I haven’t thought about this issue in a long time. The dispensary brings up the question once more: should marijuana be legal for medical purposes? I’ve heard many opinions over this issue in school. Last year, at CVU, I participated in Model UN, a gigantic project where the whole freshmen class debates over issues as if they were the real United Nations. One of the topics was how to stop the drug wars in Mexico. The solution I kept hearing over and over again was to legalize marijuana.

This would theoretically stop most of the violence in Mexico. I agree that if we wish to stop the drug wars in Mexico, that may be our only option. There are a couple problems with this plan, but one of the biggest ones is what this might do to the future of the United States. All you have to do is look around for an example of what could go wrong. Tobacco is a perfect example of a legal drug that is abused. Every year, thousands die from lung cancer caused by tobacco. If we legalize marijuana, I believe the same thing will happen: people will abuse the drug and some will die. Even if it is only for medical purposes, abuse can easily occur. So, do we really want to support this new idea of a drug that has commonly been viewed as a harmful addiction for years, or not? We have to decide.

— Conor Bauman

GUEST COLUMN: Time is running out for Food, Farm and Jobs Bill

By Tom Vilsack   

After spending much of August out of Washington, Congress is back—and rural America is watching closely, hoping for passage of a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.

With farmers facing the worst drought in decades this summer and the current Farm Bill set to expire on Sept. 30 of this year, time is running out for Congress to act.

You and I both know the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Since early this summer, when the Senate passed a comprehensive, multi-year Food Farm and Jobs Act, the administration has expressed its preference for such comprehensive legislation and urged Congress to act before the current law expires.

Let me tell you why:

A comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would ensure a strong safety net for our producers. This includes disaster assistance for those who have been impacted by the drought—especially by providing help for livestock and specialty crop producers and providing a new support system for dairy producers.

Just as important, a new multiyear bill would ensure certainty for all farmers and ranchers in the coming years.

It would help USDA to continue growing agricultural trade. We’re in the four best years for agricultural exports in our history, and we can’t afford to stop now.

It would enable USDA to continue the record investments we’ve made since 2009 in America’s small towns and rural communities. USDA could continue to modernize water and electric utilities for millions of Americans, expand broadband access and help rural businesses grow. And it would give us tools to continue expanding the production of advanced biofuels and bio-based manufacturing, creating more good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

It would allow USDA to continue the groundbreaking agricultural research that’s ongoing today, both here and at universities across America—important research the likes of which helps agriculture through tough times, such as the current drought.

A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would enhance USDA conservation efforts, ensuring that vital conservation programs that enable rural Americans to protect the land and water don’t expire.

It would enable USDA to continue helping millions of American families—folks who are working hard, playing by the rules, but still having trouble making ends meet—to provide food for their children.

And if Congress acts, we’ll be able to continue our efforts to ensure the safest food supply on earth.

As America recovers from economic recession, rural Americans are leading the way and USDA is supporting their efforts. It’s not time to let up now, and that’s why we need Congress to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.


Tom Vilsack is the United States Secretary of Agriculture. 

CY reports parent attitude shift

Connecting Youth recently announced highlights of a web survey it conducted with Chittenden South Supervisory Union parents over the summer as part of a grant study with the Vermont Department of Health.

The survey was part of a project aimed at addressing underage drinking. The project includes a parent social marketing campaign called “Lead by Example,” which aims to raise awareness about the consequences of underage drinking, the effects of alcohol use on adolescent brain development and positive parenting strategies to prevent teen alcohol use.

During the campaign, CY reported a slight shift in key parental attitudes and behaviors around underage drinking, including:

Parents who disagreed with the statement “Allowing use at home teaches teens to drink responsibly” went from 56 percent in 2009 to 68 percent in 2012.

Parents who disagreed with the statement “It is OK for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol” went from 63 percent in 2009 to 75 percent in 2012.

Parents who said they would never allow their teen to drink alcohol at home went from 50 percent in 2009 to 57 percent in 2012.

Parents who said they were “aware of the legal penalties around serving alcohol to minors” went from 74 percent in 2009 to 83 percent in 2012.

For more information or to get involved, contact CY Program Director Christine Lloyd-Newberry at 802-383-1230 or cnewberry@cssu.org.

—Observer staff report

Publicly funded preschool still accepting students

St. George and Williston children between the ages of 3 and 5 are eligible for publicly funded prekindergarten for the current school year.

Prekindergarten includes six to 10 hours per week of early development and learning experience. There are still enrollment slots available in several private locations.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union partners with 20 community early care and education programs, including the Bellwether School, Heartworks, Kinderstart and Williston Child Care Center. Contact CSSU for a list of other participating programs and contact the center directly to confirm space availability.

The program is tuition-free, but private centers may charge families the difference between their operating costs and what Chittenden South Supervisory Union pays.

For more information, or to apply, contact Wendy Clark at 383-1235 or wclark@cssu.org. Students must be enrolled by Oct. 5, 2012.

Vermont Premier Soccer premieres in Williston

Vermont Premier Soccer executives Malcolm Wilson (far left) and Iain Manson (far right) flank a group of local players during an Aug. 24 camp at the Essex Tree Farm Recreational Fields. (Courtesy photo)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Don’t let the lack of furnishings at Vermont Premier Soccer’s Cornerstone Drive office space fool you. The newly founded soccer company is open for business and is ready to teach footballing skills to youths across the region.

“It’s kind of twofold, what we do,” said VPS Director of Operations Iain Manson. “One is player education, and two is coach education. So we’re looking to basically bring up the level of soccer that is played and taught in America.”

Manson, a Scot, is joined at VPS by Technical Director Malcolm Wilson, an Englishman. Manson, who was a midfielder at the University of Dundee, said his work at VPS combines two of his passions.

“Soccer—what we call football—has always been something I’m passionate about, and I get to combine working in the game of soccer with working with kids, which is really good,” Manson said. “I enjoy working with kids in that teaching and facilitating role, so it’s kind of a perfect match that I get to work in a soccer environment and also be involved with working with kids.”

Vermont Premier Soccer is an offshoot of Global Premier Soccer, an entity that formed after Massachusetts Premier Soccer expanded into other states across the Northeast and down the Eastern Seaboard. Notable GPS alumni include Major League Soccer players Bryan Gaul, who suits up for the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Aaron Schoenfeld, who takes the pitch for the Columbus Crew.

VPS was also formed as a partnership with Nordic Spirit Soccer Club, an Essex Junction-based organization that was founded in 1986 and hosts the annual Nordic Cup tournament, which brought more than 200 soccer squads to Chittenden County in 2012.

Jim Goudie, director of operations for Nordic Soccer, used a romantic analogy to describe the three levels of partnership the Nordic board considered when establishing a relationship with VPS. Level one, he said, is dating, level two is engagement and level three is marriage. Right now, Nordic and VPS are just dating, although it remains to be seen how the relationship will blossom in the future.

“We have decided as a club to go in at level one, so we’re going to be using their staff to work with our kids and our teams all year round,” Goudie said. “They’re providing us with professional, qualified coaches.”

Goudie pointed out that while most Nordic coaches have day jobs and are strictly part-time, the partnership with VPS will allow for greater player development through VPS day camps and summer clinics.

“The main goal for both organizations is player development,” Goudie said. “We want to be able to offer kids of all abilities a good soccer experience.”

VPS, which hosted a day camp at Williston Community Park on Wednesday, will also hold a four-week series of Friday evening clinics in Williston, beginning Sept. 28, which will pit goalkeepers against strikers in an intensive program.

Manson, who moved to Vermont this year, said he’s impressed with the level of support for soccer in the area.

“I’ve only been here a short period, but even just driving around, you don’t see American football goals, you see a lot of soccer fields,” Manson said. “Soccer’s definitely growing. You see the success of the men’s national team—but especially the women’s national team, they’re doing really well right now—and that’s only good for the game.”

Olympic gymnast Miller comes to Williston

Shannon Miller, the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history, addresses a Saturday morning crowd at Green Mountain Gymnastics in Williston. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Few of the several dozen gymnasts huddled on the main mat of Green Mountain Gymnastics on Saturday were born when Shannon Miller won gold on the balance beam at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

But that fact didn’t abate the air of giddy excitement in the Williston gym as a video was projected of the routine that won Miller her first individual gold medal and cemented her legacy as the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history.

Miller’s beam routine that day was exquisite, with a flawless execution of a front flip, a tumbling pass with two layouts and a move simply known as the “Miller,” a back dive with a quarter twist to a handstand, followed by a half pirouette.

The recorded cheers from the Atlanta audience for the 19-year-old Shannon Miller segued into applause from the Williston crowd as the video faded and the group of young, mostly female gymnasts turned their gazes to the smiling face of the 35-year-old Miller, who strode to the podium with a confidence that belied the severe shyness that plagued her as a youth.

“It’s always a little bit weird watching that video, because every time I think, ‘OK, this is going to be the day when I don’t land the dismount,’” Miller laughed.

At 35, the petite, toned Miller looks like she could still perform a precise round-off back handspring on a moment’s notice—and stick the landing. It’s all the more remarkable when one considers that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer less than two years ago.

Miller’s talk at Green Mountain Gymnastics came the morning after an appearance at the University of Vermont’s Dudley H. Davis Center, at which she spoke as a guest of the Eleanor B. Daniels Fund, a nonprofit research and fundraising group for the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

“I was able to talk about the idea of competing with cancer and how my gymnastics background has really helped me compete in this other battle, and how the lessons we learn through sport help us every day in regular life,” said Miller, who today is cancer-free.

In addition to her candidness about her disease, the professional gymnastics commentator spoke frankly about Gabby Douglas, who won the individual all-around gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Miller contrasted Douglas’ performance at the 2011 U.S. National Championships, at which she “completely imploded on the balance beam” and made “mistakes that you should not be making at the Olympic level,” to the 2011 World Championships, where she had a mediocre individual performance yet won a team gold medal.

“She won a gold medal, and she went home from that competition more confident and more empowered than ever before, and it was like a switch turned on with this girl,” Miller said. “This girl came from basically you wouldn’t put her on the world team, to winning the first Olympic all-around gold medal for an African-American. It’s a tremendous story.”

Miller positioned Douglas’ story as a lesson that a gymnast should never give up, even during practice.

“Every time you get up on the beam, it is go time. It is gold medal at the Olympic Games time,” she said. “Treat that routine as if this were the routine of your life.”

Laurel Evans-Daiffenderfer, 10, of Williston was impressed by the fact that Miller admitted the pre-routine fears she felt at the 1996 Summer Games, even after winning five medals at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

“I’ve been trying to do my round-off back handspring, and I’ve been scared,” Evans-Daiffenderfer said. “The next time, I’ll try to do what she does.”

Thirteen-year-old Posie Nash-Gibney of Essex Junction, who has been a gymnast since she was 2, was also impressed by the presence of Miller, whose biography she first read when she was 8.

“It’s really cool that she came,” Nash-Gibney said. “Most of the time you don’t really meet someone that’s been so important to gymnastics history.”

Selectboard greenlights solar project

No decision on Lamplite Acres stormwater proposal

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard approved a solar energy plan Monday that will generate a quarter of the town’s annual power demand, but deferred a decision on a plan to alleviate stormwater flooding in the Lamplite Acres neighborhood.

The solar energy project calls for the installation of 26 AllSun Trackers from Williston-based AllEarth Renewables Inc. on municipal property behind the Williston Town Hall.

While the town will only see savings of around $2,000 per year for the next six years, it has the option to purchase the solar trackers after year six for either fair market value or the preset purchase option price of $338,738, whichever is higher. According to figures crunched by Williston Finance Director Susan Lamb, the break-even point on the investment will occur in 2025, with cumulative savings of more than $900,000 realized by 2037.

The project will be financed through a 25-year solar energy services agreement with Waterbury-based consulting and asset management group Green Lantern Development, doing business as GLC Solar Gen II LLC.

Luke Shullenberger, a managing partner of Green Lantern, told the Selectboard on Monday that his firm is working on packaging a series of statewide solar investments from school districts and municipalities—including Williston—into a bundled investment portfolio for companies seeking targeted tax-incentivized investments. Unlike tax-exempt municipalities like Williston or Rutland—which has its own municipal solar project in the works—firms in the private sector can receive tax credits through investments in solar energy.

“I promise I will be very transparent who the investors are soon, but they are two iconic Vermont companies who are going to be investing in this portfolio,” Shullenberger said.

Selectboard member Chris Roy asked Shullenberger if the town should be concerned about the durability of the solar trackers over the course of the 25-year agreement.

Shullenberger responded that Green Lantern views the bases the trackers sit on as a “75-year investment,” and that the panels can easily be swapped out if significant technological advances are made in the next quarter century.

The most important structural component of the trackers, Shullenberger said, is the hydraulic system that allows the GPS-based solar trackers to pivot toward the sun. He remarked that the hydraulics are non-proprietary and are similar to technology used in farm equipment, making them easily repairable.

Although the Selectboard authorized Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire to sign the solar energy services agreement on Monday, the project is still pending approvals from the Vermont Public Service Board and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The VHCB isn’t scheduled to meet again until early November, according to McGuire.

“If it gets all the approvals in early November, I’m thinking they (AllEarth) want to get these (solar trackers) installed by the end of this calendar year,” McGuire said.


The climate in the Town Hall meeting room turned from sunshine to rain following the solar panel discussion, as talk shifted to a proposal designed to mitigate stormwater impacts in Lamplite Acres, a neighborhood located off North Brownell Road that experiences excessive stormwater surface ponding during the annual spring thaw.

Williston Public Works staff and representatives from Stantec Consulting Services Inc. previously met with Lamplite Acres residents during a pair of public meetings on June 13 and Aug. 15. At the latter meeting, Greg Goyette of Stantec revealed a recommended course of action, which involves the installation of infiltration trenches and roadside rain gardens in flood-prone areas of the neighborhood.

Public Works Director Bruce Hoar explained Monday that although the project is still in its initial scoping phase, the endorsement of the Selectboard is requested so that Public Works staff can pursue grant funding. Stantec estimates total project costs to be upward of $300,000.

Roy raised the question of whether it is equitable for the town—and by extension, town taxpayers—to foot the bill for the project, when other neighborhood homeowners associations have been required in the past to make specific contributions to stormwater management.

Hoar pointed out that the flood-prone areas of Lamplite Acres are located in the town’s right-of-way.

“This is a little bit different, in my opinion, in that it really is an older neighborhood, but it’s definitely just the roads that we’re talking about here,” Hoar said. “We’re not saying we’re fixing anybody’s stormwater system, besides what we own.”

Hoar added that the board doesn’t necessarily have to commit to the entire six-figure project investment, and could instead choose to initially target only the most affected areas of the neighborhood on a pilot basis.

“That’s what’s kind of unique about this whole approach, is that you don’t have to go in and just build this whole thing right away or at once,” he said.

On Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs’ suggestion, the Selectboard agreed to continue the stormwater discussion at its next scheduled meeting on Oct. 22.

‘Spark Academy’ launches at Williston Central School

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

“You can’t start a fire without a spark,” Bruce Springsteen observed in the 1984 single “Dancing in the Dark,” the biggest hit of The Boss’ career.

Williston Central School bosses are hoping that dictum rings true with Spark Academy, an extended day program designed to light a fire under struggling students and encourage them that learning, once you get the hang of it, can be fun.

WCS Principal Jackie Parks explained that the extended day concept is twofold.

“One (component) is to make sure that kids that need extra time and support to get some of the key concepts, particularly in literacy and math, have additional time to do that with professionals,” Parks said. “The other is to provide other enriching opportunities that would be a benefit to any student.”

Spark Academy, which has the slogan “Igniting Learning through Creative Explorations,” launched earlier this month, with seven instructors and slightly fewer than 30 students. Classes are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with bus transportation available afterward.

Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli said the Monday and Wednesday sessions will concentrate on the core competencies of math and literacy, while the Thursday session will have a greater focus on enrichment and arts-based learning. However, he noted that the two forms of instruction won’t be mutually exclusive.

“We want really targeted instruction, exactly in the kind of extra help they need, but then we want to integrate that and make that exciting for them to draw them in,” Nardelli said.

Spark Academy course offerings reflect the confluence of core curriculum and enrichment learning, with such course titles as “Art and Literacy Come Together,” “All-Systems-Go Language” and “Art by Numbers.”

Parks commented that while education has become more diversified over the years and has added elements outside the traditional core of reading, math and science, the duration of the school day has remained the same.

“The idea is really to get parents to look at it like the school day doesn’t end at 3 o’clock,” Parks said. “The athletic piece has always been after school, so that’s always been recognized. What we’re trying to do is to bring other things into that afterschool realm and have it be for lots of different purposes.”

Although Spark Academy has been operating for less than a month, Nardelli said feedback he received from teachers has been positive.

“The teachers said the kids didn’t want to leave. They were having a good time,” Nardelli said. “So that’s part of what we’re trying to create—that education can be really fun. It’s not just about drill and practice. There’s many different ways you can learn, and have a good time doing it.”

Lead Free Williston reloads in gun club controversy

The easternmost shooting station of the North Country Sportsman’s Club (far right) has been decommissioned as part of an environmental stewardship plan on file with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The club’s primary five-stand shooting station (center) will be relocated so that it faces away from the headwaters of a Sucker Brook tributary. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has approved an environmental stewardship plan for the North Country Sportsman’s Club, but a group of local residents are dissatisfied, claiming it doesn’t do enough to improve the quality of waters and soils contaminated by lead shot from the Williston shooting range.

Protests over the shooting practices of NCSC have been spearheaded by Mona and Leo Boutin, whose Old Creamery Road property abuts the gun club. The Boutins were instrumental in forming Lead Free Williston, a group dedicated to improving the water quality of Sucker Brook, which flows through both the NCSC and Boutin properties.

At a Sept. 20 media event organized by Lead Free Williston, Mona Boutin argued that the environmental stewardship plan (ESP) submitted by NCSC is inadequate. She further maintained that the club has yet to submit a secondary work plan for the ESP, which was one of the conditions of approval outlined by George Desch, director of the DEC’s Waste Management and Prevention Division.

“While the gun club has submitted an environmental stewardship plan to the DEC, it does not satisfy the requirements of the state Superfund law for investigating and remediating the lead contamination documented in Sucker Brook,” Boutin said in a prepared statement. “The ESP only deals with operational changes on the gun club property. It does nothing to identify the extent of the lead pollution emanating from the soil, or what needs to be done to clean it up.”

A copy of the ESP, provided to the Observer by NCSC President Tom Blair, states that the easternmost of the club’s three shooting stations was discontinued in January 2012, due to its shot fall zone being too close to the headwaters of a Sucker Brook tributary. It also outlines plans to relocate the club’s primary five-stand shooting station so that it is oriented in a northwesterly direction, away from Sucker Brook.

However, the ESP also notes that “preliminary investigations with lead reclamation contractors have determined that, at this time, full reclamation of lead from the shot fall zone would be cost prohibitive.”

Blair, who was not invited by the Boutins to the Sept. 20 press conference, said in an interview that NCSC is complying with the state’s conditions.

“The Boutins, through their efforts over the last couple of years, were the ones who involved DEC and who asked DEC to intercede on their behalf,” Blair said. “They finally were successful in doing that, and I guess if they don’t like the outcome, then I would have to say that they should take that up with DEC.”

Tami Wuestenberg, a DEC environmental analyst, doesn’t entirely agree with Blair’s characterization, telling the Observer in an interview that NCSC hasn’t supplied a formal work plan for the ESP.

“I have lots of correspondence between the gun club and us, reminding them that they still need to do the second branch of work,” Wuestenberg said.

Yet Wuestenberg also observed that NCSC has made forward strides through the environmental stewardship plan.

“What we’re really happy with is there’s no additional shot going anywhere near the tributary anymore,” she said. “It’s a small club, and I have faith that they’re going to do the right thing. I think they’re working to the best of their ability.”

At the same time, Wuestenberg acknowledged the concerns of the Boutins and Lead Free Williston, and pledged that the state is committed to doing what is necessary to remediate lead contamination in the waters and surrounding soils of Sucker Brook.

“I agree with the Boutins 100 percent that the stream has been impacted, and we’re going to work with the club to determine how badly and what we can do about it,” Wuestenberg said.

PHOTOS: Adams’ Fall Harvest Festival

Observer photos by Marianne Apfelbaum

Locals and visitors enjoyed the fun at the 19th annual Fall Harvest Festival hosted by Adams Apple Orchard and Farm Market last Sunday. The weekend event included food, fresh cider, a petting zoo, a bouncy castle, various vendors, apple picking and a rock climbing wall. Co-owner Scott Adams estimated that the festival attracted 5,000 people from all over the region.