Three vie for two Selectboard seats

by Stephen Seitz

Two incumbents and one former state representative are vying for two, one-year seats on Chester’s five-member Selectboard in early March: incumbents Arne Jonynas and Tom Bock and former state Rep. Kathy Pellett. Selectman Derek Suursoo is running unopposed for a third three-year term.

In separate interviews, Pellett, Jonynas and Bock discussed the issues that each sees facing the town of Chester in the near-term.

Winstanley Biomass Plant

All three agree that the Winstanley Enterprises biomass generating plant, which would be built in the North Springfield Industrial Park, is of high concern.

Photos by Stephen Seitz. "The biggest concern (with Winstanley) is the traffic: how many trucks, how often they will come and how big?" says Arne Jonynas.

The project, which abuts the Chester town line with several residences nearby, would generate enough electricity to power about 25,000 homes using locally obtained wood chips. But, opponents say, it would also increase truck traffic in the area, with resulting noise and particle pollution in the air.

“I’ve read part of their application,” says Bock, the former owner of Vermont T’s, the Elm Street embroidery and banner company. “If it’s built, there will be a huge number of log trucks going through Chester, in both directions, primarily on Route 103. We hope to meet with Winstanley next month or so to see if this can’t be rectified.”

“If this problem can’t be solved,” Bock adds, “then I’m against the project.”

Pellett, a marketing consultant who serves on the reparative justice board, which guides nonviolent offenders to make restitution for their crimes, was the state representative when Winstanley announced its intentions in 2009.

“That project was in my (legislative) district,” she says. “It could adversely affect the people living there. There will certainly be increased truck traffic, but it could be beneficial for the area as well. I don’t think we should take an adversarial point of view. We should work together and be involved in it.”

Jonynas, who own Chester Plumbing & Heating, says, “The town filed for party status back in November or December. We want to be able to speak during the hearings. …

We also have to consider the plant’s byproducts. We don’t have enough information, and we want a say in the process.”

Economic Development

Controlled growth is one area that all three touched on.

Jonynas believes it should be up to Chester’s voters to decide where they want the town to go in the future. “The town’s direction should be determined by the will of the people. Growth is good, but it should be the right kind of growth,” he says.

Pellett says, “We want jobs to be created, but we need to ask what kind of building development we want, and determine what we should want. Chester’s slogan is ‘The Vermont you’ve been hoping to find.’ We want to keep that slogan in mind. We need to be an affordable town, but we need to think smartly about how we achieve our goals.”

Says Kathy Pellett, “The experience I gained in six years in the Legislature has enabled me to look at the issues in a very different way than others.”

Bock addresses an issue that has generated local controversy: a proposed 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store next door to the just-rented Zachary’s Pizza House on Main Street. Bock says the store would be nice to have. “It would generate taxes and presumably jobs. I see more good to it than bad. It might even get Zachary’s going again.”

Concerning Dollar General, Pellett says, “What I would be looking at is: What will this type of business bring to the town and does it reflect the image that Chester is trying to project? … It has to be based on the merits alone, as I would look at any business wanting to move into town … what is best for the town of Chester – for everyone.” Pellett also suggests that, “It would have made more sense to do the Act 250 hearing before the DRB because if they don’t get the Act 250, it doesn’t matter what the DRB says.”

 Why Run?

Each selectboard candidate has already served Chester citizens in a variety of capacities.

“I thought it was time to bring a fresh perspective,” says Pellett, who has lived in Chester for 14 years. “The experience I gained in six years in the Legislature has enabled me to look at the issues in a very different way than others. I ask the kinds of questions that many have not thought to ask before.”

Pellett’s Windsor 1-1 seat in the state Legislature is now held by state Rep. Leigh Dakin also of Chester.

Pellett, who says that her legislative experience will flatten out her learning curve on the Selectboard, adds that, if elected, she would take greater advantage of the town’s representation in the Legislature.

“The town has not made as much use of the state representative as they could. I did have a good relationship with (former Selectboard chair) Dick Jewett, but the town could enlist the aid of its state representative more often. It could only be beneficial for the town.”

Bock first served as a selectman for three terms in the 1980s, has spent 25 years on the planning commission and has been a member of the town budget committee. He is now running for a third, one-year term as a selectman. Bock is also Chester’s representative to the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission. “I retired, and someone asked me to run,” he says. “I decided it was time to give back.”

Jonynas, who has lived in Chester for 25 years, has been serving on school boards “for the last eight or 10 years,” and continues to sit on the Green Mountain Union High School board, says, “But now my kids are getting older … I’m at a part of my life where I want to be helping people. So when a (Selectboard) seat was open, I thought I’d give it a shot. I like interacting with the public.”

He adds that, “Being a selectman is more interesting and involving. A lot of it is finance and budgeting, and I’m not that familiar with it. But the town is in a good financial position. We had some issues about five years ago, and we had a large deficit. But the town has done a much better job since. There’s more transparency, and the finances are more understandable. I’d say we’re in decent shape.”

 Goals as Selectboard member

One goal Bock has is creating a capital reserve fund for the water and sewer departments, mostly generated through user fees.

One goal Tom Bock has is creating a capital reserve fund for the water and sewer departments, mostly generated through user fees.

Recently, the town replaced the ancient water meters installed about 50 years ago with more accurate and more easily monitored modern meters.

“They’re generating cash because they’re more accurate and they’re checked more often,” says Bock.

“I would like to be in a position to facilitate more involvement from more people,” says Pellett, “so that we have the kind of economic growth that the people want and can be proud of, that we have people who want to move here because of the wonderful town it is. That we offer the townspeople and tourists alike reasons for wanting to (be) here.”

The future of the empty armory, adjacent to Motel in the Meadow, is a longstanding problem. Once the Vermont National Guard decided to consolidate its units in new armories in Rutland and White River Junction, towns have been grappling with the future of the old buildings. All have to be brought to modern building and environmental standards, for example, and some public use has to be found for them. Ludlow, for example, converted its armory into a community center.

But Chester’s presents an extra problem: It’s not on the town water and sewer system.

“Nobody knows the condition of the septic up there,” Bock said. “It would cost a lot to connect it to the town water and sewer, and the asbestos and lead have to be chucked out.”

Jonynas adds, “For our police department, it is a pretty large place. The federal government may put it up for sale for general use since they have gone down their priority (buyer) list. I would like to see it go out to the general public for sale to increase the tax base.”

Pellett says, “I have long thought … that if the building could attract a good business like an electronics firm that could offer good paying, career-type jobs, that would be great. … We should be working with agencies like the Springfield Regional Development Corp. to find those businesses to bring (such businesses) to town (that would add to) the town’s tax revenue base.”


Town Meeting, Elections

Town Meeting, with votes on budget issues including
the town budget (Article 6), will be held at 6 p.m.
Monday March 5 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

Other issues, including elections, will take place there
the next day, Tuesday, March 6. Polls will be open
at Town Hall from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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About the Author: Steve Seitz is an author, journalist and film critic based in Springfield,VT. He has reported local news in the Upper Connecticut River Valley for many years. Steve has been interviewed on NPR's "The Story" for his knowledge of cinematic music. He also has interviewed such cinematic luminaries as James Earl Jones, Jerry Lewis, James Whitmore, Matthew Lewis ("Neville Longbottom" from the Harry Potter films), and an original cast member from every "Star Trek" series, among many others. He is working on other novels.

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