By Ben Moger-Williams
Monday’s Selectboard meeting started out with an unconventional call to order: Everyone pile into Selectman Ted Kenney’s minivan.
The purpose was the “Tour of Town Facilities,” an agenda item that Town Manager Rick McGuire said occurs once every two years or so, to give people a sense of what projects the town is working on.
Four members of the board; McGuire; a reporter; and Kenney’s 3-year-old daughter Ella climbed aboard and set out for the first stop, the Sucker Brook.
The Sucker Brook Avulsion Stabilization Project is an effort to restore an avulsed, or forcibly separated, area of a tributary of the Sucker Brook, located in the southwest part of Williston. Town Planner Lee Nellis and Environmental Planner Carrie Deegan explained that in the 1980s, a severe rainstorm caused the stream to change course. The stream literally jumped out of its streambed and left its path to a 30-foot waterfall to flow into a sand and gravel pit nearby.
“A big storm flushed it through here,” Nellis said, as the group walked through a long, sandy depression where grass was just beginning to grow along the side of the stream. “We estimate that 30,000 tons of sediment have moved out of here in the last 20 years because of it. Now we are in the process of stopping that.”
The first 425 feet of the stream have been forced into a channel that is now lined with gray stones. Four stone weirs (small dams) break up the downhill flow, and a flood plain has been constructed with grass and other vegetation so as to help stop erosion along the sides of the stream. The eroded sediment that was washing into Lake Champlain carried about a ton of algae-causing phosphorus with it.
The first half of the project cost about $150,000.
“We’ve worked step by step to acquire money from a host of different grant programs, and any time we saw a grant that was remotely related to this, we’d apply for it,” McGuire explained.
However, the second half of the project, restoration of another 465 feet of the stream, is estimated to cost about $217,000, Deegan said.
“The difference is that the access for construction vehicles is a lot more difficult on that section so we’re anticipating that’s really going to drive the bid prices up,” she said.
The next stop was the Public Works garage, which houses the town’s snowplows, trucks, an aging grader, and other heavy machinery; and the Water and Sewer building next door.
Public Works Director Neil Boyden led the group on a quick tour of the buildings. Boyden said the early-’70s-era garage occupies about five acres of land, which he says is barely enough.
“We’re busting at the seams here,” Boyden said. “But I think even a bigger issue is the location.”
Boyden explained that since the garage is located in the northwest section of town, it can be difficult for drivers to get to the garage in the winter, and then hard for the plows to get out onto the streets.
“It’s terrible. If you get a snowstorm in the afternoon during commuting hours we can’t even get trucks out of here,” Boyden said.
McGuire said the town is looking into selling the property and buying land in a more accessible location.
Ella admired the big trucks, earthmovers and the town’s new $80,000 orange sidewalk plow.
“As we gain more walks and bike paths, we’re certainly going to have more demand for maintenance,” Boyden said. The plow is kept in the garage in the summer, and in the winter is stored at the fire station.
Walking past the salt shed, which is held together by cables and had its roof blown off last winter, the entourage headed for the Water and Sewer building. The building holds three vehicles; endless rolls of plans; and shelves full of spare parts for the town’s 80-90 miles of waterways and 60-70 miles of sewer pipes. It also has no shower, which several Selectboard members noted was a bit inappropriate.
The final stop on the way back to Town Hall was a large open space behind the Allen Brook School, which is being tapped for a future site of public sports fields.
“We had a task force look at this and they said this was an acceptable location for ball fields,” McGuire said. “We do have some neighborhoods along the side here that we’re going to have to be careful about if we do ultimately develop this for ball fields. But it’s a great location, other than that.”
McGuire said the site would not be turned into the ball fields for some time, and the project was still in its initial stages.
By this time, Ella was beginning to get restless and hungry, and the board was ready to start their formal meeting. The car took a swing by the site of the future fire and rescue station at the Mahan Farm on U.S. Route 2, before turning in to the Town Hall parking lot and starting the meeting.
And a very well-behaved Ella was thrilled to be reunited with her mom and to be going home.