Residents may help restore Allen Brook

Sept. 30, 2010

By Tim Simard
Observer correspondent

In an effort to continue restoring Williston’s Allen Brook, classified by the state as an impaired stream, town officials are asking residents to help. Williston planners hope residents with land directly abutting the polluted brook will allow for further restorative efforts and possibly grant conservation easements on their land.

Planner Jessica Andreoletti says continued improvements to the Allen Brook benefit all Williston residents. She hopes the 158 landowners whose property directly abuts the brook and its tributaries, which are on a state list of impaired waterways, will be receptive to the ideas she’s presented.

“This is a community effort,” Andreoletti said. “We’re all going to have to work together to get this stream off that list.

Andreoletti made her first presentation to the public on Sept. 23. Approximately 20 residents turned up at a meeting at the Williston Fire Department to learn what the restorative project could mean for their properties. Andreoletti also sent letters to about 60 landowners with the largest tracts of properties along the brooks. She plans to contact more property owners in coming weeks.

One Williston resident, whose neighborhood borders the Allen Brook, said the town’s proposals are reasonable and will go a long way in removing stormwater and pollutants commonly found in the stream.

“I can’t see any negatives to it,” said Jude Hersey, who lives in the Heritage Meadows neighborhood and is a member of the Conservation Commission.

In the letter, Andreoletti asks the property owners two questions. The first is if they’d be willing to allow trees and shrubs to be planted on their property on a 50-foot or 150-foot buffer extending back from the Allen Brook or its tributaries.

The second piece asks if landowners would be interested in providing the town with a conservation easement on the newly planted buffer, and allowing town officials to monitor the easement from time to time.

“(Landowners) aren’t going to lose access to their property,” she said. “They’re not going to be able to do anything less than they can do right now.”

Williston’s development bylaw already limits landowners from developing within the Allen Brook buffer zones.

“It’s not like they’re losing their land, it’s just that there will be some restrictions,” she said.

Andreoletti said people can donate their land; however, there are funds available for property owners who might want to sell their land to the town as part of the easement. She hopes citizens would be more inclined to donate. With limited grant money that expires at the end of 2011, Andreoletti said she would like the bulk of the funds to go to restorative measures.

The restoration project will have several benefits for the town, Andreoletti said. Besides the benefits of a less polluted Allen Brook, town taxes would decrease if the stream is removed from the state’s impaired waterway list. Also, more improvements to the brook mean more stormwater offset credits the town might see for future development.

“There are a lot of pluses here,” she said.

Developers who build in Williston must have a detailed stormwater management plan and purchase offset credits to help the town deal with increased sediment in the waterways. The town’s development has brought sediment, stormwater and other pollutants into the Allen Brook in recent years. But there have been improvements.

Led by Andreoletti, the town has planted trees and shrubs in different parts of the brook’s floodplain, including behind the fire station and near the entrance to the Southridge neighborhood. Also at Southridge, the town cut back part of a steep bank to allow the brook better access to its floodplain. It’s that restorative work that Andreoletti wants to see completed all along the brook.

So does Hersey. She suggested inviting Andreoletti to speak before the Heritage Meadows Homeowners Association’s board of directors. She hopes the board and neighborhood residents will be receptive to a conservation easement on their common land.

“I’d be interested to walk along the brook down there and see the status of the banks and the wetland area,” Hersey said.

Since the Allen Brook is located wholly within Williston, the town has a “unique opportunity” to help restore the Winooski River watershed and, in turn, improve Lake Champlain, Andreoletti said.

Andreoletti intends to conduct more meetings with residents and neighborhood associations in the coming months. For more information, contact the Williston Planning and Zoning Office at 878-6704.