April 16, 2014

Residents share concerns with public works location

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By a group of local residents

At a meeting of the Selectboard on June 17, residents presented their concerns regarding the proposed location of a new public works facility on a 55-acre parcel of undeveloped woodland and wetlands on Oak Hill Road.

Local residents first met with the town manager and the public works director on June 10 to discuss the town’s hasty change in the proposed location of the facility from near IBM and the CSWD waste and compost facilities to a parcel designated as a wildlife corridor in an agricultural/rural residential area. The Selectboard decided that the concerns warranted a two-month delay in the planned purchase, which was slated for June 19, to allow public input and consideration of alternatives.

The residents unanimously agree that a new public works facility is warranted. However, the proposed facility on Oak Hill Road directly conflicts with the town’s Comprehensive Plan and the August 2012 recommendations of the Public Works Facility Committee.

Based upon articles published in the Observer, there was no public knowledge of the intent to locate the facility on Oak Hill Road prior to the vote that approved the bond in March. The selection of the property was apparently an eleventh-hour decision that was made when the preferred location fell through. As previously reported in the Observer, there was a conscious decision to not disclose the new proposed location until the parcel was under contract. Williston residents deserve the opportunity to understand whether a facility in this location conforms to the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Both the Comprehensive Plan and the Committee report call for the facility to be located in an “industrial/commercial” zone to avoid residential disturbance. However, at the June 10 meeting the assertion was made that rural “Ag/Res” zoning was always what the Town was looking for, and this was repeated in the manager’s statement to the Observer that the Oak Hill Road parcel met all of the criteria for this project.

The environmental impact of this proposal is undeniable. The Comprehensive Plan states that an important goal of the town is protection of wildlife areas and wildlife travel corridors. The Oak Hill Road parcel is within one of seven designated wildlife areas, characterized as a significant wildlife habitat and a crucial part of a wildlife travel corridor. The placement of a public works facility on this parcel would involve destruction of “core forest” and break connectivity in a major wildlife travel corridor, both considered necessary to long-term survival of a number of species in Williston. Further, this property includes wetlands and tributaries of Allen Brook, which is currently characterized by the state as “impaired waters.” Even if it were possible for remediation to take place with respect to salt, oil and herbicide runoff that naturally accompanies wash down of public works vehicles, such remediation would undoubtedly be quite expensive.

Another concern is the character of the Village. Trucks would enter and exit the facility less than a thousand yards from the four-way stop at the intersection of Oak Hill and Route 2. Anyone regularly traveling through the village of Williston knows what increased heavy truck traffic at the intersection and through the Historic Village District would mean for the character of our town. The Comprehensive Plan expressly states the need for a study of Oak Hill Road partly “to evaluate how traffic calming on Oak Hill could be used to divert drivers to Route 2A.” The proposed facility would, if located at this site, directly conflict with the Comprehensive Plan. Further, noise and light pollution, as well as viewscape impairment and air quality, will all impact the heart of the Historic Village. Large trucks approaching the four-way stop will generate noise as they use engine braking to slow down, and will generate noise and sooty exhaust as they accelerate from the intersection—a problem made worse by the hill south of the intersection. It is not only the town trucks that are of concern. The even larger trucks from elsewhere that will deliver large quantities of salt, gravel, asphalt patch, culverts and the like will add to the very industrial nature of the facility and increase its impact on the cultural heart of Williston.

The Selectboard did the right thing in putting this proposed purchase on hold, even if just for a couple of months. Now is the time for all residents of Williston to speak up about whether the facility should be placed in the rural, historic center of Williston or in a more appropriate location. Please speak up, Williston!

The group of local residents includes: Peter and Peggy Bryant; Wolfgang and Barbara Mieder; John, Connie, Jason and Matt Storer; Keith and Beth Gaylord; Kevin O’Brien; Bill and Ursula White; Stuart and Laura Meyer; Jim Smith and Ellen Stark.

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