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Town backs out of stormwater commitment

New committee seeks common ground

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Town of Williston has reversed course on its commitment to maintaining stormwater upgrades at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools.

Williston Stormwater Coordinator James Sherrard acknowledged last week that he prematurely sent a letter to the Williston School Board three years ago that offered town ownership of school stormwater systems once the school district completed the improvements.

With a presumed commitment from the town, the district moved forward with engineering the upgrades and budgeted them into the voter-approved $20 million school construction bond passed last March. The improvements — required under the town’s municipal stormwater permit and restoration plan for Allen Brook — are due to be completed next summer, according to Williston School Board vice chairman Kevin Mara.

However, earlier this year, the school board received a new proposal from the town that leaves the district responsible for the upgraded stormwater systems and all future maintenance and repair costs.

“The proposal falls far short of the town’s prior commitment and is not consistent with the parties’ agreement or the numerous written communications and verbal discussions between the parties over the last three years,” school board chairwoman Amanda Marvin wrote in an April letter to Williston Selectboard chairman Terry Macaig.

Sherrard noted that, since the town’s original commitment, the district has been consolidated into a regional school district that includes four other towns.

“It was too soon for town staff to make that (commitment),” Sherrard said during last week’s selectboard meeting. “That was an error to send those letters out prior to the selectboard making a decision.”

Mara and Marvin, both of whom will continue to serve on the newly formed Champlain Valley School District board, urged the selectboard to revive the town’s commitment to taking ownership of the school’s stormwater infrastructure.

“Given the public nature of the (schools) and the public benefit afforded to town residents, this is precisely the type of situation where the town should should assume responsibility for maintenance, repair and replacement of a stormwater system once the systems are brought up to standards,” Marvin’s letter to Macaig stated. “The school district has held up its end of the bargain … the (school board) respectfully requests that the town honor its prior commitment.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire recommended against the town taking ownership of the school district’s stormwater systems.

As a compromise, the selectboard board agreed to form a subcommittee with school district board members to work an a new agreement.

McGuire said any stormwater agreement involving the town and the new regional school district will be complex.

“The weeds are going to get pretty thick fast,” he said.

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