By Kara Herlihy and Lisa Loomis
Each December the editorial staff of The Valley Reporter compiles a list of the year's most important stories. The stories are chosen for their impact on the community, the number of times they turn up in the headlines and their general newsworthiness. Here, in no particular order, are the top stories of 2008.
Waitsfield voters approve municipal water project
The third time was the charm for Waitsfield's municipal water project, which passed by 33 votes on Election Day. Voters cast 593 yes votes and 560 no votes, with 27 blank votes. The $7.5 million project first came before voters at Town Meeting in March where it (and a proposal for a municipal sewage project) was voted down by 44 votes, 442 to 398.
The town modified the water project to extend the service area, allocate more grant funding towards it and provide fire hydrants along the service route, then brought it back for a revote on June 10. That time, it was voted down by 13 votes, 219 to 206.
Town residents petitioned the town for a revote and that vote was successful. The town has approximately $3.6 million in grants towards the project. The project will provide fire protection to the service area with hydrants.
A new state law went into effect in July which required that when a project comes up for a revote, it must receive at least two-thirds of the number of votes from those who prevailed in the previous (June) vote. In this case, the voters who prevailed in June cast 219 no votes, so the November 4 vote could pass by a simple majority if the yes votes exceeded 146 (two-thirds of 219 no votes from June).
According to Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, this vote cannot be petitioned for reconsideration and the town now has the authority to move forward with the project.
Adam Greshin defeats incumbent Carol Hosford
Independent candidate for state representative from Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston, Adam Greshin, Warren, defeated the incumbent state representative, Democrat Carol Hosford, Waitsfield, 1545 to 1410 this week.
Hosford won in Waitsfield, 586 to 566, but lost in Fayston, 383 to Greshin's 404, and lost in Warren, 441 to Greshin's 575.
Voter turnout was high in The Valley, with percentages ranging from 72 percent in Warren to 83 percent in Waitsfield. In Fayston, voter turnout was 79 percent. It was 78 percent in Duxbury and Moretown.
Major flooding hits Rochester and Hancock
Major flooding hit Hancock and Rochester this summer on August 6 when the White River overflowed its banks. Vermont Emergency Management personnel were on scene with boats staged for rapid rescue response if necessary and residents had been evacuated from the Tucker Hill Road area of Hancock.
Route 125 was washed out and closed and the bridge over the White River was damaged. Vermont Emergency Management spokesperson Mark Bosma said he had been told the water was six feet deep over parts of Route 100 and said he was watching the area closely as rain was predicted until 3 p.m. Wednesday. Additional thunderstorms were predicted for Wednesday evening.
<MI>The Valley Reporter<D> received flood photos and reports from people in Rochester and Hancock, including Mark Dougherty who said the water was higher than it had been during the 1998 and 1973 floods.
The National Weather Service estimated that between two and four inches of rain fell early that morning in the Hancock, Granville, Rochester area and reported that additional rainfall of up to an inch fell before noon. Flash flood watches remained in effect through Wednesday evening for the area.
Ward Hill Road washed downhill in Duxbury
A significant amount of Ward Hill in Duxbury with washed downhill during an intense, localized thunderstorm that occurred on August 2.
FEMA representatives told town road foreman David Quenneville that because the total damage from the August 2 storm on Moretown, Berlin and Duxbury exceeded a million dollars, federal assistance would be forthcoming.
The damage to Ward Hill started near the top of the steep dirt road on Saturday, Quenneville said, when a culvert collapsed.
"Because Ward Hill is straight uphill, all that water roared down and became a tsunami," he said.
By the time the rain stopped, a fair amount of Ward Hill had ended up in the yard of Bob Adams, who lives at the bottom of the hill on Duxbury Woods Road.
Moretown roads devastated by flash floods
Approximately 10 of Moretown's major Class III and Class IV roads were severely damaged and in some areas, completely washed out by two flash floods in August. Moretown Mountain Road was completely washed out in the heavy rain over a two-day period.
The national weather system declared Moretown a disaster area following the flooding, which was required before any federal relief funds could be granted to repair the washed-out roads, including Jones Brook Road, Dickerson Road and Wards Brook Road.
The town's road crew worked tirelessly alongside engineers from Knight Engineering to fix the roads and make them passable again. Town officials estimate that the damage inflicted by the flooding has cost the town approximately $225,000.
The town applied for, and will soon receive, funding from the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FEMA) to reimburse them for the monies spent to make the roads safe and passable.
Engineers recommended rebuilding all of Dickerson Road at once (which already has grant money designated for repairs) instead of phasing repairs in sections.
Waitsfield Cable converts to digital
Waitsfield Cable's conversion to all-digital service was a hot topic locally. Cable company officials were the first to point out that it did not go as smoothly as they had hoped. The process was lengthy and challenging and saw long lines of customers at the cable offices in Waitsfield. Company personnel worked around the clock to help people get their new equipment set up, earning kudos from many for their customer service.
Waitsfield Cable is now one of only a handful of cable systems in the country to have made the transition to an all-digital system. While the conversion itself was disruptive it brought high-definition (HD) channels and additional channel capacity to The Valley.
Contractor sprays herbicides on Waitsfield playground
In June the Waitsfield Elementary School community was outraged to learn that a contractor applied herbicides to a school athletic field while children were present on the adjacent playground.
Contractors from the Buckley Corp. in Colchester were hired by the school to upgrade a soccer field at the south end of the school. Employees sprayed herbicide on the field on two occasions when children were present and failed to properly mark the field. On at least one of those occasions, the wind was blowing from the south to the north, from the soccer field towards the playground.
The school board held two emergency hearings for parents and others to discuss their concerns and then worked with community members on how to complete the task of repairing the soccer field that had been sprayed.
At the first emergency meeting, a gymnasium full of upset parents questioned board members and the state officials for almost three hours, voicing outrage that they had not been notified about the incident earlier, raising questions about the safety of the herbicide (Eraser) that was sprayed on the field while children were present, asking board members why a contractor's bid that spelled out that herbicides would be used was ever okayed.
Parents discussed respiratory distress in students as well as rashes after the spraying and were told that those were short-term effects of exposure that did not have long-term consequences for children's health or development.
The incident led the school to revise its bidding process and also rethink the wisdom of trying to create a pristine field of grass rather than Vermont's usual lawn mix of thistle, clover, broadleaf grass and other "weeds."
Waitsfield town dam fails, pond drained, town ponders repair
The 30-year-old earthen dam at the north end of the town pond on Route 100 in Irasville came close to failure this spring and an outtake pipe that runs from the pond, under the dam, split and caused earth to erode above it. That led to a sinkhole on the top of the earthen dam at the north end of the pond.
When select board member Charlie Hosford took action to reduce water levels in the dam without state permission, the town was cited by the Agency of Natural Resources for discharging waters into a state wetland -- the land downstream from the earthen dam. The state required the town to hire an engineer to develop a plan for remediating the wetland and dealing with the pond/dam issue.
The town has drained the pond to take the pressure off the dam, repaired the wetlands to the state's satisfaction and is now pondering what type of dam to rebuild at the north end of the pond.
Originally the town anticipated replacing the earthen dam with a similar dam, but then its engineers recommended an open spillway as a better alternative. Both options will cost between $70,000 and $80,000. At issue for the town is the fact that the state does not approve of open spillways. The state, however, has no jurisdiction over how the town rebuilds the dam, only over the potential impact on the wetlands.
Ski areas celebrate birthdays
Sugarbush celebrated its 50th birthday with a weekend-long party in December and Mad River Glen will celebrate its 60th birthday in January.
The Sugarbush bash was well attended and featured a return of the "Sugarbus" which brought skiers from Manhattan to Sugarbush in the 1960s. The party featured a Charlie Brown film of a half century of skiing from "Mascara Mountain" to the present. A dinner buffet and old ski attire party sold out completely.
Details of Mad River Glen's party are forthcoming.
Fayston adopts new Town Plan
The Fayston Select Board approved the new, completely rewritten Town Plan at the third and final public hearing on Tuesday, October 13, 2008.
The hearing took place in two parts: the first to address land use regulation changes and the second to approve the addition of an industrial district in Fayston.
The final hearing followed a year-long extension previously granted in part due to a major shift in PC responsibilities. The highly anticipated document includes proposed bylaw changes to Fayston's land use regulations, as well as the addition of an industrial district.
The formation of a Development Review Board, designated to handle subdivision applications specifically, caused a shift in duties, some of which were formally reserved for the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
As a result, the PC moved away from development review to focus exclusively on long-term planning. Bylaw changes illustrating the shift in responsibilities were briefly discussed at the August 19 hearing.
The revised Town Plan also addresses conditional use expiration dates, Planned Residential Development, and adding an Industrial Zone abutting the Waitsfield Industrial Zone.
Wheeler Brook project nears completion
Construction on Warren's first affordable housing complex, named Wheeler Brook, will hopefully be complete in March, according to representatives from Housing Vermont. The complex is located on the former Blue Tooth parcel on the Sugarbush Access Road.
The 18-unit complex sits on a nine-acre property and received final plan approval from the Warren DRB in June 2007. Plans call for 16 units to be rented at rates affordable to residents making no more than 60 percent of the median income for the county. Two units will be rented at market rates.
The complex features three buildings around a common green space. Bill Maclay of William Maclay Architects and Planners said that the goal is to use trees and vegetation to shield the development from the access road and restore a more "rural" feel to the location.
In April 2007, Housing Vermont and the Central Vermont Community Land Trust received $475,000 in funding for the project through the Vermont Community Development program.
A combination of federal tax credits, low-interest loans and other funding sources allow the organizations to keep the development costs low and rent the units at less than market rates. Wheeler Brook will not be subsidized.
Applicants for the apartments will be required to meet income requirements based on a federal formula that takes into account the median income of the county, family size and other considerations. Housing Vermont will soon be accepting applications for occupants.
Warren reappraisal extensions
The Warren Select Board set their tax rate September 5 following two 30-day extensions granted to the town listers as a result of the lengthy property reappraisal process. Town lister Priscilla Robinson said the extensions were filed as a result of computer problems, holidays and staff vacations.
Warren town listers worked to finalize the values of between 3,200 and 3,300 individual assessments, which represent the property market values as of April 1, 2008.
Robinson explained in July that the state system was not built to deal with a town like Warren, with such a varied range of properties including a golf course, a ski area, and a significant number of condominiums.
The select board set the delinquency date for November 14, with two rounds of grievance hearings that followed.
The last town appraisal was completed in 1997, according to Robinson.
Warren creates department of public works
Barry Simpson named director
Longtime Warren Select Board member Barry Simpson stepped down from his position to assume a new role as the town's new Department of Public Works director. The appointment was announced by Warren Select Board chair Burt Bauchner in late August.
The town filled the new position following a six-month search and extensive advertising. They received applications from across the country, but Bauchner said they found the best candidate in The Valley.
Select board member Erin Russell-Story said, upon Simpson's appointment, that she was "thrilled and torn" with Simpson's change of roles, and added, "We're losing a valued and valuable member of the board, which made the decision very difficult."
Simpson will occupy a new office in the town-owned Ruby Blair house, which the town decided to rent out residentially and utilize as town office space during the Town Hall renovation project.
Simpson's appointment as DPW director left a vacant seat on the Warren Select Board, which will not be filled until after Town Meeting in March. Simpson will still occupy his position as town road commissioner and attend regular select board meetings.
Fayston, Moretown students lead Valley and state in NECAP science scores
Vermont's statewide science assessment results are in and two local schools lead the state and The Valley in results.
The Fayston and Moretown Elementary Schools, respectively, posted scores of 94 percent and 84 percent proficient or proficient with distinction in the tests. Both schools participate in the Four Winds science program for elementary school students.
The science assessment portion of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) was administered this spring and results were released last week. The tests were given to Vermont students in grades 4, 8 and 11.
On a statewide level 48 percent of Vermont fourth-graders tested proficient or higher in science. In grade eight, 26 percent were proficient or higher. In grade 11, 25 percent were proficient or higher.
Moretown builds new town garage
Moretown's old town garage was torn down this year and replaced by the new structure, which was completed in late December. The new garage is significantly larger than the previous building and is able to house all of the town's equipment.
The new building's footprint is approximately 60 by 110 feet and features three entrance bays facing Route 100B. The old garage doors were salvaged and sold for around $900 and new steel cedar-clad doors were installed in November.
Project liaisons Hoover Austin and Doug Reed made regular appearances at Moretown Select Board meetings and provided bi-monthly updates on the project's progress.
Several frustrated village residents gathered at the December 15 meeting to complain about the bright outdoor lighting fixtures and noise made by town trucks as they traveled to and from the town sandpit.
Initially, the project was denied a conditional use permit by the Moretown DRB because of concerns over storm water runoff and landscaping plans. Voters approved an article to spend $900,000 on the garage at the March 2007 Town Meeting. Currently the project is estimated to be approximately $10,000 to $20,000 over budget.
Moretown Quarry remains contentious
A proposed quarry project on Route 100B in Moretown continues to face opposition with the formation of the "Moretown Taxpayers for Common Cents" group who submitted a petition to the Moretown Select Board calling for spending changes regarding town monies spent in opposition to the project in September.
The applicant is Rich Rivers, who proposed the quarry that would occupy a portion of the 93 acres north of Moretown Village. Rivers applied for and was denied town development review board permits in 2004, and was denied an Act 250 permit on two criteria (air quality and town plan conformance) in 2007. Rivers appealed both rulings and the appeals later merged at the Vermont Environmental Court.
Over the course of several select board meetings, members of the "Moretown Taxpayers for Common Cents" expressed their dissatisfaction and frustration with the estimate $104,000 spent by the town since 2004 fighting the proposed quarry project.
The petition, which was presented in October, was signed by 170 Moretown residents. The select board responded to the petition in writing, which indicated that the town plans to "stay the course" in their ongoing litigation.
Members of the select board indicated that they will continue to support the decision of the Development Review Board and plan to finish the year as budgeted, revisiting legal spending in the coming 2009 budget season.
Afterglow burns in Warren Village
Vermont State Police report that on April 1, 2008, at approximately 5:17 a.m. the Warren Fire Department was called to respond to a fully engulfed fire on Main Street in Warren. They found a large commercial building fully engulfed in fire on Main Street. The building, owned by Roth Family Partnership, housed Afterglow Day Spa and Salon and Smith-Gurney Antiques. Afterglow has relocated to the Mad River Green Shopping Center in Waitsfield.
Firefighters from the Waitsfield/Fayston and Moretown Fire Department responded along with the Mad River Valley Ambulance Service. Warren Fire Chief Chris Kathan made a request for an investigation by the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit. On April 1, 2008, Detective Sergeant Matt Nally of the Vermont State Police along with Investigator Bob Patterson of the Department of Public Safety-Division of Fire Safety responded to the scene to conduct a full Origin and Cause Investigation. It was subsequently learned that there had been a low order explosion, which blew the front doors to the antique store into the roadway, approximately 60 feet away. The basement wall of the antique store end of the building also was blown out and went as far as the river to the west of the building. The ensuing fire was reported by an area resident. As fire agencies were arriving, a large propane cylinder failed and also exploded.