July 25, 2014

Dragon boats race for a cause

The annual Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival is set for Aug. 3 in Burlington.

The annual Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival is set for Aug. 3 in Burlington.

The Windows & Doors by Brownell team, Windows & Oars, has been competing in the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival for years.

The Windows & Doors by Brownell team, Windows & Oars, has been competing in the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival for years.

By Phyl Newbeck
Observer correspondent
Williston Central School teacher and veteran dragon boat racer Debra Letine has renewed motivation to compete in this year’s Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival and Races.
Letine got involved with the festival in 2005 after recovering from breast cancer. This March, she was diagnosed with brain cancer, and underwent six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy simultaneously. A team of teachers and staff will take to the lake in honor of Letine and two other members of the school district community who have cancer.
The ninth annual festival is set for Aug. 3 at the Burlington Waterfront to raise money for cancer programs in Vermont.
For Letine, the paddling is therapeutic.
“I feel like every time I practice, I’m killing off cancer cells,” she said. Although she is undergoing a regimen of five days of chemotherapy followed by 23 days off, Letine intends to compete in the World Club Crew Championship in Italy this September.
In addition to the Williston Central School team, Letine’s family and friends have formed a new team called Drain Brammage—a play on words, since the tip-off to Letine’s current cancer was difficulty speaking. Some team members are local while others are coming from far away, and several veteran racers on the Dragon Heart team have joined the team to help out those who have never paddled before.
“Dragon boat racing is very important to me,” Letine said. “I try never to miss a practice. The paddling itself is a piece of what’s important to me, but the warmth and camaraderie of the team is the most important.”
“Deb has not skipped a beat,” festival organizer Linda Dyer said.
Lyn Porter is captaining the Williston School District Cancer Castaways boat.
“We’re paddling because three known colleagues are fighting cancer at this point,” she said. “We all know somebody who has been touched by cancer, but this year having it close to home and within our schools, it has touched us deeply. We can’t fight with them, but we can paddle for them and support them.”
The festival is capped at 64 teams consisting of 20 paddlers and a drummer, and includes several boats composed solely of breast cancer survivors. Races take place every four minutes from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A popular part of the event is the flower ceremony, where teams link their boats together and throw flowers into the lake in memory of those who have died. Last year, the festival raised $140,000 and the eight-year total is close to $1.5 million.
Dyer describes the day as “a community festival where people team up to race for fun, fitness and charity.”
“It’s a great day and what sets us apart from a lot of other events is that it’s all about the community,” said Dyer. “It’s pretty exciting to see what the community can do to help cancer survivors.”
People can contribute to the event by racing, volunteering or simply donating to the cause.
“The money goes right back into the community,” Dyer said. “It’s what helps us do what we do all year.”
The school groups are not the only local teams competing.
Lauren Tomasi of Williston is part of a Merchant’s Bank team called Hakuna Matatas, a Swahili phrase meaning no worries. Tomasi is new to Vermont, having recently relocated from Oregon, and she said she’s excited to take part in a team-building event for a good cause. Part of the reason she and her husband moved east was to spend time with his late mother, who had cancer. In addition, Tomasi’s aunt is a breast cancer survivor. Tomasi has never been on a dragon boat but said she’s looking forward to the experience.
“I haven’t done much rowing before, and I’ve never done anything like this,” she said. “I’m excited to learn more about what my part will be and how we’ll work together. If I’m going to do something I want to be good at it.”
April Bolin, marketing manager of Windows & Doors by Brownell, has been on the company’s team, Windows & Oars, for the last four years.
“It’s for a fantastic cause and we like to give back to the community,” she said “but it’s also wonderful team building for our company. After the first year, we realized how much fun it was and wanted to keep doing it.”
The team starts with staff and is supplemented by family members. A core group of about 60 percent of the team has paddled every year. Employees host a company-wide garage sale to aid in their fundraising efforts. Bolin, who lost all four of her grandparents to cancer, said none of the paddlers had ever been in a dragon boat before the first year.
“I’m a kayaker,” she said “but paddling the dragon boat is totally different.”
She praised the festival’s organizers for helping the team learn the fundamentals and getting them started.
“It’s a really great organization,” she said. “It gives people an opportunity to get together and look at the positive side of life.”
The day’s events will benefit Dragonheart Vermont and Survivorship NOW, a cancer wellness program based in Williston, which describes itself as a bridge between treatment and recovery. Survivorship NOW has roughly 30 free classes each month in topics ranging from art and music to exercise and nutrition. Exercise classes run the gamut from traditional cardio workouts to hula hoops and are free to both survivors and their caretakers.
It’s not too late to volunteer for the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival. Interested parties can go to ridethedragon.org and click on the volunteer tab. An organizer will contact them and offer them tasks ranging from bailing water out of boats to handing out flyers and maps and organizing photo shoots of each team.
“No skills are required,” Dyer said. “All you need is a smile.”

Elite mountain bikers returning to Williston

Olympian Lea Davison competeting in Nove Mesto a World Cup competition in the Czech Republic in 2013. The Jericho, Vermont native returns to her home state to compete in the Catamount Classic in Williston on July 26.

Jericho native Lea Davison will defend her title at the Catamount race this weekend. Locals can meet several of the pro cyclists after a screening of ‘Half the Road,’ a documentary about the lingering inequalities in women’s cycling. The screening benefits Little Bellas, a non-profit founded by Lea and Sabra Davison.

­Observer staff report

For the second year, mountain biking’s top athletes will converge on Williston for the final race of a summer-long series.
The race is the last stop of the Pro Mountain Bike Cross Country Tour, a seven-race series that draws the leading male and female riders.
Jericho native Lea Davison, an Olympic mountain biker who won last year’s Catamount Classic, is set to compete in the event again. Davison also won the Pro XT series last year, but this season an injury prevented her from competing in all of the qualifying races.
“I’m excited to be back in Vermont and racing on my home course at Catamount,” Davison said. “Nothing beats the love from local fans. I can’t tell you how much that support means to me.”
The Catamount Classic is set for Saturday, July 26 at Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston, part of a weekend of racing and activities for all ages and levels. The event features bike demos, food vendors and kids’ activities.
Saturday’s Pro XCT starts at noon for men and 2:30 p.m. for the women’s event. Sunday features a short track competition starting at 2 p.m. for men and 2:45 p.m. for women.
On the same weekend, Lea Davison and her sister, competitive rider Sabra Davison, are hosting a screening of “Half the Road”—a documentary outlining the challenges facing elite female cyclists. Several of the tour’s mountain bikers will be on hand to meet locals and answer questions.
The film screening, set for July 26 at 7 p.m. at Main Street Landing in Burlington, will benefit Jericho-based Little Bellas. Founded by the sisters, the mountain biking foundation’s goal is to “help young women realize their potential through cycling,” according to its website.
“We are really excited to bring this film to Burlington, especially when focus is turned to pro cycling with the Pro XCT in town,” Lea Davison said. “‘Half the Road’ tells the story that is sadly familiar to top female athletes. When it comes to elite-level and pro competition, it’s still in many ways a man’s world. We hope by bringing this film here, Little Bellas can help raise awareness about inequity in sports and push for change.”
“Half the Road” was directed by Kathryn Bertine, who documented her road to the 2012 Olympics. She realized that prize money for women was much lower than for men, no base salary or union existed for women and women’s events were rarely linked to men’s.
Equality reigns in this race, however—the top five male and female riders will receive an equal share of a $15,000 prize purse.

Top rated new vehicles for seniors


 By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend any credible resources that rate the best vehicles for older drivers? My wife and I are both in our 70s and are looking to purchase a new automobile but could use some help choosing one that’s age friendly. What can you tell us?
—Car Shoppers

Dear Shoppers,
While there are a number of websites that rate new vehicles for older drivers, one of the most credible is Edmunds.com, a top-rated online resource for automotive research information.
For 2014, they developed a list of “top 10 vehicles for seniors” based on user-friendly features that help compensate for many of the physical changes—like diminished vision, arthritis and range of motion loss—that can come with aging.
But before we get to the list, here is a rundown of different features that are available on many new vehicles today and how they can help with various age-related physical problems. So depending on what ails you or your wife, here’s what to look for.

Knee, hip or leg problems
For comfort, a better fit and easier entry and exit, look for vehicles that have six-way adjustable power seats that move the seat forward and backward, up and down, and the seat back forward and backward. Also look for low door thresholds and seat heights that don’t require too much bending or climbing to get into. Leather or faux leather seats are also easier to slide in and out of than cloth seats.

Limited upper body range of motion
If you have difficulty looking over your shoulder to back up or merge into traffic, look for vehicles with a large rear window for better visibility, wide-angle mirrors which can minimize blind spots, back-up cameras, active parallel park assistance and blind spot warning systems that alert you to objects in the way. Also, for comfort and fit, consider vehicles that have a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, adjustable seatbelts and heated seats with lumbar support.

Arthritic hands
Features that help with difficult and painful gripping and turning problems include a keyless entry and a push-button ignition, a thicker steering wheel, power mirrors and seats and larger dashboard controls. And in SUVs and crossovers, an automatic tailgate closer can be a real bonus.

Diminished vision
Look for vehicles with larger instrument panels and dashboard controls with contrasting text that’s easier to see. And those with sensitivity to glare will benefit from extendable sun visors, auto-dimming rearview mirrors and glare-reducing side mirrors.

Short and/or overweight
Look for six-way adjustable seats, adjustable foot pedals and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
2014 Best Vehicles
Here is Edmunds list of the top 10 vehicles for 2014 listed in alphabetical order. Each offers features designed to support drivers coping with the conditions discussed above. Their picks include both sedans and SUVs, and range from top-of-the-line luxury models to those with more affordable price tags.
Acura RDX SUV, Audi A8 Sedan, Ford Taurus Sedan, Honda Accord Sedan, Hyundai Sonata Sedan, Lexus ES 350 Sedan, Mazda CX-9 SUV, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan, Toyota Avalon Sedan and Volkswagen Passat.
To read more about the details of these choices visit edmunds.com and type in “Top 10 vehicles for seniors for 2014” into their search bar.

AAA Resource
Another excellent resource that can help you choose a vehicle that meets your needs is the American Automobile Association’s online tool called “Smart Features for Older Drivers.”
At seniordriving.aaa.com/smartfeatures you can input the areas you have problems with—like knee problems, arthritic hands or a stiff upper body—and the tool will identify the makes and models that have the features that will best accommodate your needs. Although this tool looks at model-year 2013 vehicles, in many cases the features shown are carried over for 2014 models.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

LIVING GREEN: Funding available to help producers go organic


Observer staff report

Gaining organic certification can be an overwhelming expense for a small food producer. That means that while many follow practices that most of us would consider environmentally friendly and chemical-free, they can’t technically call their products organic.
A new source of funding can help producers gain the certification that may help drive their sales.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that approximately $13 million in Farm Bill funding is now available for organic certification cost-share assistance.
“Consumer demand for organic products is surging across the country,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. “To meet this demand, we need to make sure that small farmers who choose to grow organic products can afford to get certified. Organic food is now a multi-billion dollar industry, and helping this sector continue to grow creates jobs across the country.”
The certification assistance is distributed through two programs. Through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, $11.5 million is available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. Territories. Through the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, an additional $1.5 million is available to organic operations in 16 states, including Vermont.
These programs provide cost-share assistance for certification-related expenses incurred from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.
Payments cover up to 75 percent of an individual producer’s or handler’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 per certification. To receive cost-share assistance, organic producers and handlers should contact their state agencies.

LIVING GREEN: Mapping out the best ways to compost

Vermont is quickly moving towards mandated recycling and composting. As part of this effort the Agency of Natural Resources has launched an interactive online map that will help residents, businesses and institutions find and connect with collection services. (Photo courtesy of Chittenden Solid Waste District)

Vermont is quickly moving towards mandated recycling and composting. As part of this effort the Agency of Natural Resources has launched an interactive online map that will help residents, businesses and institutions find and connect with collection services. (Photo courtesy of Chittenden Solid Waste District)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
With the statewide move to mandated recycling and composting approaching, the Agency of Natural Resources has developed a new tool to help businesses and households prepare.
ANR last week launched its interactive online Universal Recycling Materials Management Map. The map was created to help residents, businesses and institutions connect with collection services. It also helps food rescue agencies, haulers and composters connect with sources of quality food and food scraps, such as restaurants, supermarkets, schools and hospitals.
The map also displays the local governments, known as the Solid Waste Management Entities, who can provide composting and recycling assistance to businesses and institutions at the local level.
Vermont’s Universal Recycling law bans all food scraps from landfills by July 1, 2020. Larger generators of food scraps need to begin diverting these materials sooner if a certified facility is located within 20 miles.
Recyclables (such as metal, glass, plastics #1 & #2, and paper/cardboard) are also banned from the landfill beginning July 1, 2015.
Josh Kelly, with the Department of Environmental Conservation solid waste division, said recycling is the first step for the few out there who haven’t already caught on.
“First and foremost, get active with recycling if you haven’t already,” he said. “There’s so many options now and so much convenience in the recycling world, but we have made it more convenient.”
Beginning this summer, transfer stations and drop-off sites must accept recycling without an extra fee.
While 2020 isn’t extremely close, Kelly recommends that residents start thinking about how they will handle their food scraps and yard debris.
“I think home composting is a great option and the cheapest option by far,” he said.
If residents are not interested in home composting, transfer stations that accept compost are identified on the map. By 2017, all transfer stations must accept compost.
In Williston, Chittenden Solid Waste District on Redmond Road accepts recycling, food scraps, leaves and yard debris. Down the street, its Green Mountain Compost facility accepts food scraps and leaf and yard debris.
“Removing food scraps and other organic material from the waste stream is a high priority for Vermont,” said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz. “These materials account for nearly 30 percent of what we throw out, wasting limited landfill space; and as the waste breaks down it produces greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.”
Markowitz added that, “in order to make it easier for Vermont businesses and institutions to identify the alternatives that are available to them, the Agency of Natural Resources  is now providing an easy-to-use tool to help connect food producing businesses and institutions with food rescue organizations, solid waste haulers and facility managers.”
More features will be added in the future, such as e-recycling facilities.
The Agency of Natural resources also developed a food recovery hierarchy with the passage of the Universal Recycling law.
The top and most important step is reducing the amount of food residuals being generated at the source. That means being more careful with the amount of food you purchase and cook, minimizing wasted food.
The second step is to direct extra food of high quality to feed people by donating to food shelves and other similar strategies. Third, use lower quality food residuals for agricultural uses, such as food for animals. Fourth, direct food residuals for compost, anaerobic digestion and land application. Finally, food can be processed for energy recovery.
To access the map, visit http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/solid/URmap_launch.html

Rabies confirmed in Williston


By Marianne Apfelbaum and Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

A woodchuck that bit a South Road resident last Saturday has tested positive for rabies, and local and state health officials are urging residents to use common sense and caution around wildlife.
After being bitten, the resident killed the woodchuck and brought it to the Vermont Health Department lab for testing, where the rabies diagnosis was confirmed on Tuesday. The resident is undergoing rabies vaccination, more formally known as post-exposure prophylaxis—a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Current vaccines are not especially painful and are given in the arm, according to the CDC.
Williston’s animal control officer, Millie Whitcomb, sent out a press release on Tuesday alerting area media about the incident and urging pet owners and those with livestock to confirm that their animals are current on their rabies vaccinations. She also suggested that pets should not be left alone outside, a sentiment echoed by Williston veterinarian Dr. Ryan Canales, who owns Long Trail Veterinary Center in Williston Village.
“People have to be very conscious of their environment,” Canales said, adding that even if a pet owner has a fenced-in yard, pets should be overseen at all times.
Canales said that if you see a skunk or a woodchuck, for example, “grab your pet and get out of there. Don’t investigate or test limits.” If your pet does engage with a wild animal, you should not intervene. “For your own safety, stay away…rabies is fatal,” he said.
According to the Vermont Department of Health website, rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease found mainly in wildlife—especially raccoons, foxes, bats, skunks and woodchucks—but can also infect domestic animals and humans. Rabies affects the central nervous system, eventually causing brain disease and death. While rabies usually causes a change in behavior, no one can tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it. Rabid animals may seem normal or can be lethargic or aggressive, losing their natural fear of other animals, humans and cars.
The South Road woodchuck is the 30th confirmed case of rabies in Vermont this year, though Vermont’s public health veterinarian, Dr. Bob Johnson, said many cases likely go unconfirmed. “There are so many cases of rabies in Chittenden County,” he said, noting that small rodents and rabbits “can get rabies, but they are not documented to have transmitted (the virus) because they die before it gets to their salivary glands.”
One suspected case in Williston happened Tuesday evening. Police were called to a Wildflower Circle residence regarding a rabbit that was acting strangely. Officer Skylar Provetto was able to capture the animal in a large plastic bag after several attempts, during which the rabbit would alternately move awkwardly toward the officer and then flop sideways and roll around on the pavement. Provetto confirmed that he thought the animal was rabid. Police said the animal was not taken to the Vermont Department of Health for testing.
Most of the 2014 Vermont cases involved raccoons. In late May, a big brown bat found in Williston tested positive for rabies.
Martha Dunbar, a USDA wildlife biologist who acts as the state’s rabies biologist, said Chittenden County is seeing more rabies cases this year than in the past, but that isn’t indicative of an overall upswing in rabies cases.
“Usually it’s cyclical in nature,” she said. “One area gets hit hard one year and one year it’s another area… The Chittenden area is getting more this year than perhaps they have in the past, but it tends to be that way.”
Last year, there were 50 confirmed cases of rabies in Vermont, none of them in Williston.
“Hundreds of cases of animal rabies have been reported throughout Vermont since 1992 and the outbreak will continue to be a problem for many years,” according to the Vermont Department of Health website.

Avoid any animal displaying strange behavior. Do not try to trap the animal by yourself. Call the rabies hotline at 1-802-223-8697 or call Williston Police at 878-6611.
If you are bitten by a wild animal or exposed to its saliva, wash the wound with soap and water and call your doctor immediately. Your doctor will decide whether you need a rabies vaccination. Untreated rabies is fatal to humans.
If you think you have found an orphaned animal, do not touch it. Visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com to find the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.
The Department of Health also recommends that residents not make their yards inviting to wild animals. Secure your trash and recyclables, make sure your compost is raccoon-proof and make sure birdfeeders are not accessible to mammals.
If you find a bat in a room with an unattended child or someone who was sleeping, the bat should be captured and tested for rabies. Only try to capture the bat if you can do so without getting bitten, and call the rabies hotline for guidance.

Make sure your pets and livestock are vaccinated. The CDC recommends that any unvaccinated dog, cat or ferret exposed to rabies be euthanized immediately. Canales said cats are the number one animals that are not being properly vaccinated.
If your pet was wounded by a wild animal not available for testing, you should assume it has been exposed to rabies. Call your veterinarian for information on how to proceed.
Keep pets inside at night, when many wild animals are more active. If they are out during the day, keep them on a leash or in an enclosed space, since pets that roam free are more likely to come in contact with wild animals.
Canales stressed the importance of staying away from wildlife. “Leave Mother Nature alone,” he advised.
Dunbar concurred, and noted, “If wildlife seems friendly, that is abnormal behavior.”

Vermont Gas pipeline project underway in Williston

Workers head to lunch Tuesday at the Vermont Gas staging area for the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Workers head to lunch Tuesday at the Vermont Gas staging area for the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Construction began in Williston this week on the Vermont Gas Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project.
Workers have been clearing some trees on the right of way along Mountain View and Redmond roads. This week, they began delivering piping. Crews will lay the piping along the roads, weld it together, dig a trench and bury the pipe.
Project manager Charlie Pughe said the project should have little effect on traffic.
“There may be some times where there will be some impact to traffic, but I would expect it to be relatively minor,” he said.
Trucks will bring in more piping as needed to the staging area at the former Williston Driving Range on Route 2—likely two to four truckloads coming up from New Jersey per day—but shouldn’t hold up traffic more than the occasional light cycle, Pughe said.
Vermont Gas set up its staging area for the project at the former driving range in the spring, as reported in the May 22 edition of the Observer. All materials and piping for the project will go through the staging area, which will be set up until next summer.
Workers are organizing piping on the western side of the staging area. On the eastern side, workers are coating some of the piping with cement. Since some of the pipeline will run through wetlands and natural gas is lighter than air, it needs to be weighted down.
The project, brought before the town in 2012, will bring natural gas from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes through an underground high-pressure pipeline, passing through Essex, Williston, St. George and Hinesburg. The pipeline will roughly follow the planned route of the defunct Circumferential Highway.
Construction is starting in Williston on Mountain View and Redmond roads. Simultaneously, workers are building a new gate station on Route 2, just east and across the street from the Williston Fire Department. The gate station will connect to the Williston distribution system and increase reliability, Pughe said.
Next week, contractor ECI will begin boring under the Winooski River.
Pughe expects the Mountain View and Redmond roads portion to be completed in the next several weeks. Construction crews will then begin working to connect to the Williston gate station and heading north to Colchester.
Pughe said project organizers hope to have the section from Colchester to the Williston gate station completed by the end of this construction season in November. Next year, they will begin heading south. Pughe expects to reach Middlebury by the end of next summer, and Vermont Gas hopes to deliver natural gas by the 2015-16 winter.
Once the pipeline is completed and workers leave the staging area, there will be few visible signs that they were there. Crews laid down fabric over the grass and put gravel on top of it. So once construction is completed next summer, workers will scrape up and recycle the gravel, roll up the fabric and allow the grass to regrow.
The only above-ground portion of the project is the gate station on Route 2, which will be mostly shielded from the road by trees.
The Vermont Public Service Board approved the 41-mile natural gas pipeline, known as Phase I of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project, in December. Preliminary planning for Phase II, an extension of the transmission line to Ticonderoga, N.Y., is underway.
Vermont Gas received its final permits for Phase I earlier this month.
Vermont Gas is working with the town of St. George to finalize easements for the portion of the pipeline passing through St. George. Part of the easement agreement includes bringing distribution service to St. George by 2017.
Vermont Gas has approximately 3,000 customers in Williston, both residential and commercial users, and operates more than 58 miles of distribution piping in town.