October 22, 2014

YEAR IN REVIEW: Looking back at Williston’s top 2012 stories

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Todd Shepard’s mother, Marge Shepard, pins on the new Williston police chief’s badge as his father, Richard (left) looks on.

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

2012 has come and gone.

Barack Obama won four more years in the White House. The United States won 46 gold medals at the Summer Olympics. Superstorm Sandy cost hundreds of lives and billions in damages. The world didn’t end in fiery apocalypse on Dec. 21.

Williston, like the country and world at large, had its share of ups and downs in 2012.

Though it escaped the path of Sandy, Williston faced a storm of controversies at a police department divided by internal strife, at a local farm polluted by lead and at various public forums, where debates ensued over a planned big-box store, a drug and alcohol rehab center and alternatives to the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway.

Less controversially, the fiscal year 2013 municipal and school budgets passed by wide margins, the town moved forward on a solar energy project and major strides were made in the restoration of the Allen Brook.

The following is a recap of the top Williston stories from the year 2012:

POLICE MATTERS

The resignation of a police chief and the hiring of his replacement bookended what was an often contentious year for the Williston Police Department.

On Jan. 23, Chief Roy Nelson resigned following an extended leave of absence for cancer treatment. On Feb. 6, the Williston Selectboard heard testimony regarding a grievance filed by Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain which requested that a disciplinary warning letter be removed from his personnel record. The disciplinary warning issued by Town Manager Rick McGuire stated that Chamberlain intended to “undermine and discredit” Nelson during a meeting with Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan.

Chamberlain maintained that his actions were protected under federal whistleblower protection laws. He alleged that Nelson failed to appropriately respond to several department matters, including a 2010 incident concerning a missing bag of cocaine that inexplicably reappeared and a traffic fatality in 2010 involving a 73-year-old Williston resident.

The Selectboard ultimately denied the grievance, with minor redactions to the warning letter.

In response to public records requests from the Burlington Free Press and the Williston Observer, town officials released a three-part internal investigation report from May 2011, which revealed opposing factions within the WPD and what one officer termed an atmosphere of “anger, distrust, frustration and fear.”

On Aug. 20, Todd Shepard was sworn in as Williston’s chief of police. At the ceremony, the former deputy police chief of South Burlington pledged to lead the WPD past its previous struggles.

“There have been some troubled waters in the past that have reached the news,” Shepard said. “I’m looking beyond those. I’m looking … with the end in mind that we’re going to move forward and plan ahead and work together collaboratively to be the number one agency in the county.”

McGuire said in a Dec. 4 interview with the Observer that the Vermont Attorney General’s Office has scheduled private interviews with an unspecified number of police personnel regarding a complaint that was filed. McGuire declined to comment on the nature of the complaint or if it is related to the previous internal investigation.

“While the complaint is under investigation, I can’t comment,” McGuire said. “Once the investigation has been completed, I’d be happy to release any of the reports or documents that we’re legally entitled to release.”

TARGET AND MAPLE LEAF FARM: A TALE OF TWO ZONING CHANGES

A pair of development pitches that would require zoning changes met with mixed public opinion in 2012.

The first—a proposal by Minneapolis-based retailer Target Corp. to establish a 136,500-square-foot store on the site of the former Williston Driving Range property at 6180 Williston Road—has yet to see a specific plan application cross the desk of Williston Planning and Zoning Department staff. The property is currently zoned as mixed-use residential.

Officials from Target met with Williston residents at a public forum on Jan. 3 of last year. The majority of attendees were opposed to the establishment of what would supplant Wal-Mart as the town’s largest big-box store.

Target officials returned to Williston on July 26 for a closed-door session with Planning and Zoning staff, presenting what Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau termed “minor variations” on the original proposal. Belliveau told the Observer on Wednesday that he’s heard “literally nothing” from Target officials since July.

Conversely, officials from Maple Leaf Farm, an Underhill-based alcohol and drug rehab center, have frequented the Town Hall meeting room since submitting a specific plan application on June 20 that seeks a zoning change to locate a new Maple Leaf facility on the former Pine Ridge School property at 9505 Williston Road.

Some Williston residents have opposed the plan, citing the location’s proximity to residential neighborhoods and schools. Other Willistonians have argued that the facility would allow residents suffering from alcohol and drug addiction to receive local treatment.

A FARM, A GUN CLUB AND THE GREAT LEAD DEBATE

Prompted by the complaints of Lead Free Williston, a group dedicated to improving the water quality of Sucker Brook, a study conducted by the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation found that elevated levels of lead in a tributary of Sucker Brook were caused by the shooting practices of the North Country Sportsman’s Club.

The Lead Free Williston complaint was spearheaded by Mona and Leo Boutin, whose Old Creamery Road farm abuts the NCSC property. At a Sept. 20 media event at her family’s farm, Mona Boutin argued that the gun club has yet to comply with the terms of an environmental stewardship plan accepted as a course of remediation by the state.

NCSC president Tom Blair, who wasn’t invited to the media event, said in a subsequent interview that his club is cooperating with the state’s conditions.

Tami Wuestenberg, a state environmental analyst, in turn told the Observer that while NCSC has made progress with the terms of the environmental stewardship plan, further work still needs to be done by NCSC to remediate lead contamination in the vicinity of Sucker Brook.

THE CONTINUING CIRC SAGA

On June 18, after two prior meetings largely devoted to analyzing alternatives to the scrapped Circumferential Highway project, the Williston Selectboard approved further study of what is known as “Major Network Study 2”—a proposed extension of Redmond Road that would connect with Vermont 289 via a bridge over the Winooski River.

The Circ alternative was selected over “Major Network Study 1”—an additional interchange on Interstate 89 between exits 11 and 12 that would extend north to Williston and Mountain View roads.

The chosen alternative has been incorporated into the Williston-Essex Network Transportation Study, or WENTS, an ongoing multimodal transportation improvement plan that encompasses an area stretching from I-89 to the south, North Williston Road to the east, Vermont 15 to the north and the Industrial Avenue/Williston Road intersection to the west.

A WENTS-related meeting has been scheduled for Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Williston Town Hall meeting room. The meeting will feature the participation of the Williston and Essex selectboards and members of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

IN BRIEF

  • Incumbent Selectboard members Terry Macaig and Chris Roy were re-elected on Town Meeting Day (March 6), as were Williston School Board members Deb Baker-Moody and Giovanna Boggero and Champlain Valley Union High School board member Jonathan Milne of Williston. All were uncontested races.
  • On Election Day (Nov. 6), incumbents Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough, both Democrats, were re-elected for Williston’s two seats in the Vermont House of Representatives. They defeated Republican candidates Jay Michaud and Tom Nelson.
  • Jonathan Hendricksen, a 28-year-old Williston School District special education para-educator, was accused in April of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child after an alleged incident in the shower of the YMCA in Burlington. Hendricksen, who was subsequently terminated by the school district on May 30, has pleaded not guilty. The case is still pending.
  • Citing a “constitutional error,” the Vermont Supreme Court dismissed in May two aggravated assault charges in the case of Robert Kolibas, the Williston man who was found guilty of giving his daughter and her friend sedative-laced smoothie drinks and then molesting the 13-year-old friend during a 2009 sleepover party. Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan told the Observer in July that he would not request a retrial. Kolibas is still serving a 14-year sentence for a lewd and lascivious conduct conviction in the case.
  • A multiyear project to restore the impaired Allen Brook wrapped in 2012. A total of $401,102 was spent to conserve 37 acres of land, of which 18 acres were planted with trees and shrubs. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said on July 24.
  • The Selectboard approved a 25-year solar energy services agreement in September that calls for the installation of 26 AllSun Trackers from Williston-based AllEarth Renewables Inc. on municipal property behind the Town Hall. The break-even point on the investment is expected to occur in 2025, with cumulative savings of more than $900,000 by 2037, according to Williston Finance Director Susan Lamb. Town Manager Rick McGuire said in an interview Wednesday that he expects the solar trackers to be installed and operational within the next few weeks.
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