Town bolsters permit enforcement

New employee started this week

March 27, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Lisa Murdock has spent much of her career helping developers with permits. Now she moves to the other side of the excavation.

Murdock started working for the town of Williston on Monday. She fills a new position that includes enforcing permit conditions and inspecting construction sites.

The job represents a change of perspective for Murdock, who for the past decade has worked as an engineer for private firms.

"It's completely the opposite side of the table," she said. "It's going to be different, but it's going to be interesting to see that side of it."

Her title will be engineering technician. She reports to Public Works Director Neil Boyden but will also work with the Planning Department.

Permit enforcement has been problematic in the past because of staffing limitations, Boyden said. Murdock will visit construction sites to ensure developers are following rules regarding storm water controls and other standards established during the town's permitting process.

The position will include a mix of office and field work.

"It's sure not going to be all glory here," Boyden said. "Sometimes she may need rubber boots to inspect a septic system."

Murdock will be paid $45,240 annually, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire. But Boyden said the position could actually save money in the long run.

Infrastructure such as septic systems and drainage pipes are buried, so without timely inspections substandard work may not be noticed until many years later, Boyden said. Then the problem can cost individual homeowners or the town thousands to fix.

Permit enforcement has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years. A new study by the Vermont Natural Resources Council found permit violations at construction sites around Vermont that caused erosion and pollution of nearby waterways. Legislation being drafted in the Vermont House would stiffen penalties for such violations.

Boyden said state and local permits tend to mirror each other, so the new position will help ensure developers comply with rules designed to protect the environment.

Murdock, 36, was born in Burlington and grew up in the Lake Champlain Islands. She attended the University of Vermont, where she received a degree in civil engineering. She lives in North Hero with her husband, Michael.

Murdock has worked as an engineer for Llewellyn-Howley Inc. in South Burlington and for ESPC, a Williston civil and environmental engineering firm.

Projects she worked on included the Ice Barn in Milton and the Hampton Inn in Plattsburgh, N.Y. She also helped design sidewalks in Hinesburg and other Vermont towns.

That experience dovetails with her responsibilities in Williston. Part of the job involves helping develop the long-planned series of sidewalks throughout Williston. Voters approved $2.6 million in bond funding for sidewalk construction in 2004, but much of the work has stalled because of residents' reluctance to grant rights-of-way.

There were 20 applicants for the new position. Boyden said Murdock's experience with both field and design work made her the most well-rounded candidate.

Murdock is likely to encounter many of the same developers she used to work with in the private sector. Will she find it hard to enforce the rules when she sees a familiar face?

"Not at all," she said. "My responsibility is to look out for the best interests of the town of Williston."