Weston board talks Little School work, fiber optic, shared health officer

By Cherise Forbes
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Despite a busy day at the polls, the Weston Select Board began to explore the potential for fiber optic internet in the town and discussed the viability of a shared regional health officer, alongside continued discussion about the Little School grounds and a generator to be shared by both the school and Town Office, at its meeting on Aug. 11.

Road Foreman Almon Crandall kicked off the gathering with a status update on the winter sand purchased from Renew Renaud Gravel, which is now being delivered with plenty of time to spare before snow falls. Additionally, a truck apron near the Wilder Homestead Inn had garnered some complaints, leading Crandall to even out the apron with gravel. One nearby resident has expressed concern, however, and requested that the gravel be covered with blacktop instead, he explained. After some discussion between Crandall, board Chair Denis Benson and board member Tim Goodman regarding the longevity of the blacktop with pavement underneath, as well as the cost—$89 for the needed ton, with a final cost projected to be closer to $300 or $400 when labor and tools are considered—a motion to approve the blacktop was presented by Goodwin and approved unanimously.

“I’d favor pleasing the taxpayer,” Goodwin said.

Landscaping, emergency power at The Little School

Nicole Wengerd, representing The Little School Building and Grounds Committee, informed the board of the planned removal of water features, namely large rocks close to the building, installed at the school a few years ago. The committee has voted to remove the rocks, she explained, and they wanted to discuss any suggestions or requests from the board before proceeding.

“The teachers want it gone, and there are also some licensing issues with standing water and sharp edges,” Wengerd said. “We’re putting in an effort to take that out before the school year starts, though that has been delayed until Oct. 19 so we’re playing it by ear.”

The owner of Hunter Excavating, who is married to a member of the Little School board, has offered to clean up the school’s grounds by removing garden beds that had been partially pulled out, raking mulch, and removing the  water feature, said Wengerd. Though some of this work will be in near town septic pipes, none of the planned projects would entail digging into the earth, she said.

Benson asked that The Little School and Hunter Excavating utilize “Dig Safe,” a not-for-profit clearinghouse that notifies participating utility companies of any planned digs, and also asked that the school avoid pursuing the projects following any heavy rains due to soft ground.

Before the board moved on to the next building, Wengerd also asked about restrictions on replacing the windows in The Little School if a grant or other funding related to Covid-19 were to come available.

“With all of the Covid regulations, heads are spinning trying to find out the best way to open the school, and a lot of teachers have asked about the windows in the building,” she said, adding that extra funding for Covid related facility improvements may be available through grants. “The teachers would love to open the windows, not just this year because of Covid but because it’s nice to be able to open your windows, and I think that very few actually do.”

The new windows would need to be of a similar height and width, Benson said, but encouraged The Little School to move forward if funding can be secured.

Discussion continued on a proposed generator or battery backup to be shared by The Little School and the Town of Weston, before the issue was tabled again for another day. Safe storage of batteries had been discussed previously, with an addition to the Town Office’s annex suggested as a potential storage space. Battery back-up from Tesla, as well as both solar and conventional solutions from Green Mountain Power, were brought up by Goodwin. While he noted that the duration of those batteries is uncertain, Goodwin said that the response he’s heard most often to that quandary is, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

“If there’s a major storm and the lines are down, the sun might come out tomorrow but it wont put the lines back up,” Benson countered.

Fiber optic maybe, shared health officer no

The potential for fiber-optic internet was also floated by Goodwin, who has been in contact with Steven John of the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District. The Deerfield Valley CUD formed this April to bring high-speed broadband to the region, and nearby Londonderry recently joined their ranks. The board agreed to welcome John to a future meeting for further discussion.

“Gov. Scott just threw $2 million into fiber-optic, and I know that some of it will go to the (Communications Union Districts),” Goodwin said. “Covid and education has brought it to the fore that we don’t all have the best internet service, and for those of us that have it pretty good we probably don’t have something as good as the fiber option.”

A request from Londonderry Board Chair George Mora — sent to the boards of Peru, Landgrove, and Windham alongside Weston — was also discussed. Mora and her Jamaica counterpart Greg Meulemans, she explained in an email, have been appointed health officers for their respective towns though they do not have the time needed to continue fulfilling the role.

“Greg and I discussed together, and separately with our boards, the possibility of a shared position between several towns, with compensation for the time involved – which is considerable in many instances,” Mora wrote. “We both feel that finding suitable volunteers at this time will be increasingly difficult.”

Board Member Ann Fuji’i noted that Weston currently has a health officer, Will Goodwin, and questioned whether it made sense to change a configuration that’s been working. Ultimately, the board moved to reply to Mora but declined her request to explore unified options.

In other business

A proposed tree planting project at 35 Boynton Road was the next order of business, which was eventually tabled in the interest of collecting more information on the submitted measurements. There was some debate among board members as to whether the tree was within the right-of-way and, earlier in the meeting, Crandall had recommended against allowing planting within the right of way for plowing purposes.

Administrative Assistant Natalie Boston updated the board on VT-Alert, a municipally based notification system offered by Vermont Emergency Management. The system is funded by taxpayer dollars, but requires no direct payment for participation from the Town of Weston — just a formal authorization from the Select Board, which was ultimately provided following a unanimous motion.

“VT-Alert is just for emergency purposes like risk of life or property, fires, road closures, and things like that,” Boston explained, noting that she and any other ‘local managers’ for the service would need to undergo a 90-minute training session.

And finally, the board signed off on paperwork detailing funds from a 2018 Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant as well as approving payroll and minutes from their meeting on July 28. The board’s’ next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25.

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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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