Thursday, September 24, 2015

Opinion: Questioning Chester's $4 million water project

Am I the only one that thinks the voters of Chester who will decide whether to approve the proposed $4,050,000.00 no-bid water project including the higher-than-assessed-value land purchase are being played like a tin piano?

Fellow Chesterites: Am I the only one that thinks the voters of Chester who will decide whether to approve the proposed $4,050,000.00 no-bid water project including the higher-than-assessed-value land purchase are being played like a tin piano? With its many moving parts and dizzying array of so-called "benefits" of the greatly in excess needed acreage, a weird mashup of hiking trails, forestry & management, reserve for deer habitat & gravel extraction is laughable. Additional projects come with price tags of their own and not included in the prohibitively expensive figure we are asked to approve. I gotta say call me skeptical. Had to laugh when reading the 4/2015 Chester Telegraph story with Dave Pisha claiming land is a bargain - original asking price was half a million and it's now a mere $399,000.00 and still over its assessed value by six figures while Pisha reports savings to Chester of another $1,000,000.00 Facepalm.

Continuing saga has the makings of a good-old-boy sleepy southern backwater drama (no offense to sleepy southern backwaters). Just guessing here but rather sure the "Boss Hoggs" will be saying shazzam if it passes with cronies taking careful notes. Naomi Johnson churching her involvement combined with her sister when asked at a selectboard meeting about a conflict, that she is prohibited from unethical practices pure folly as it doesn't stop anyone from profiteering schemes, somewhat unenforcible and rarely considered at the criminal level.

So who's driving this bus? Water Superintendent Jeff Holden says it's necessary, Chester town manager Dave Pisha is being advised by Dufresne and Henry engineer of the project, Naomi Johnson concerning the scope and none other than Chester DRB member Amy O'Neil, her sister landowner for the town manager recommended site.
[lots of links:

The landowner whose property is being called the least costly option for the siting of a new redundent tank, are coincidentally sisters. Nothing personal against either one, don't know them, but call me suspicious as this appears to be a carefully crafted end-run around the the will of Chester voters. Following an extremely contentious selectboard-backed years-long battle with O'Neil Excavating who wanted to use blasting in a heavily populated residential area including at least one school for gravel extraction & excavation, unsurprisingly the school and voters soundly rejected it. O'Neils made numerous attempts to shoehorn this project, latest version appears to be just one more. 

Following the District Environmental Court, Act 250 review, associated regulatory boards and courts all rejecting it, here we are once again being asked to hand the O'Neils what they were unable to demand from the town minus the effort and now at taxpayer expense. Nice work if you can get it. And still a mystery who the third party removing this bargain-of-a-lifetime gravel will be. 

And why the new owners, we the taxpayer, will be able to excavate it without blasting as the present owners claimed was necessary. With the aforementioned negative aspects why should we as taxpayers want to be in the business of gravel production by paying a third party to handle the work. How much has been extracted and how much is left? 

Another mystery. Or why would we want to be in the business of forestry, deer wintering and management, and hiking trails. Head hurts trying to imagine it. Road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

As an added bonus this is not the first time we have been led down this garden path. Researching the matter I came upon a story involving our previous town manager, Susan Spaulding expressing angst and dismay claiming the state was "flexing its muscles" against a water improvement project by rejecting the finance option 10 years ago. Unfairly billed to grand list rather than the water users so here we are once again and I see no done deal here or guarantee funds will be approved and same thing won't happen again.

As the selectboard meetings take place, am I the only one who finds the failure of our local leaders to provide or demand answers to all questions before moving forward a head-shaker? 

Claiming answers will be provided at additional to-be-announced power-points has the appearance of a delaying tactic which allows the parties pushing this project to control the flow of information until the last minute disguising the jawdropping details until the end as some are unable to attend the many back-to-back meetings. 

Firstly, any project, or law which cannot be passed without a hard-sell and alot of arm-twisting should raise questions - think the "affordable" health care debacle. Anything which truly benefits the good of all is unlikely to meet this level of contention and opposition. Water Superintendent Jeff Holden who seems to have never met a taxpayer-funded municipal project he didn't like, declaring at a selectboard meeting it was "hard not to lose his cool" that members didn't seem to be fully behind his and Town Manager Dave Pisha grandiose dream is eyebrow-raising. 

He also urged voters years ago to hurry up and approve the multimillion dollar municipal building we don't need & can't afford. So, looks like selectboard is guilty of failing to sufficiently attempt pulling wool over taxpayer eyes. How long he's worked for the town is irrelevant - we are paying for it not the employees, architects and planners who come and go, the rest of us may not even be here long enough to pay off the bond, our kids and grandkids will. 

Secondly, aforementioned two town employees have a poor record of avoiding taxpayer-funded boondoggles. A couple of years ago we were told we needed new water meters.

This would save taxpayer money as it would be quicker for readers to read meters. It would locate those infamous leaks. We were warned that our rates may go up as water usage would be better calculated. I called Dave Pisha to ask what our options were. Was taken aback as he very rudely said we could dig a well and put a septic tank in our back yard. I spoke with Mr. Holden and was told it wasn't optional only to find out we could have opted out all along. Well, metered usage in fact went down not up. Appears we were being overcharged prior, we were then faulted for not using enough water. Rates went up, those who use little were charged more and the large users were charged less. And we now pay a $20. per quarter fee for the new state-of-the-art water meters. Has the Peter who was robbed by Paul been repaid and where are the savings? According to the recent reports we will pay an additional $25.00 per quarter, together at least 180.00.00 per year increase over a few years time as well as the now-increased cost of water. If info provided accurate, this example alone renders Mr. Pisha and Mr. Holden to be, shall we say less than truthful and clearly do not have the interests of residents in mind. Our two-person household now pays over $650 per year and do not even drink it, bureaucracy at its finest.

Lastly, failing grades for two local news sources, Chester Telegraph and Vermont Journal for inability to provide an honest and balanced perspective with real pros and cons, or even interviewing anyone on the record using verifiable information and numbers that are actual, not virtual estimates based solely on information they were spoonfed and accepted as fact wit little if any question, while simultaneously cheerleading the project and glossing over the real issues. This is advocacy journalism at best and a whitewash amounting to a disservice at worst leaving us with more questions than answers, poorly served by these "news sources".

I oppose the project for the following reasons: 

- Voters are not being asked to pay the number sources are verbally claiming, but the $4,050,000.00. It was on the town website but has been recently removed. 
Nothing has officially changed. Recent figures thrown at us at the 11th hour far below what we are voting for are not backed by anything but estimates of those tossing the numbers around that no official entity has verified in hardcopy. A "trust us" doesn't cut it when asked to pay for multimillion dollar projects.
- Unfairly forces those not on town water/sewer to pay a portion on behalf of those who are under the guise they use various in-town public facilities such as schools seemingly under the "for the good of the many" clause in the invisible social contract. This also has been thrown in at 11th hour. They already pay all associated costs for their own systems including replacement while travelling various distances to "use" town services and patronize our businesses.

- Taxpayers may not even fully realize benefits claimed, as far as I can see we are promised nothing. I have not seen a complete breakdown of what business as opposed to residents will pay.

- If the "leaks" are on on property line, some if not all towns charge the homeowner, not the town to fix them.

- Choices for land purchase represent a false dichotomy and appears to be by design as we are only given the choices which primarily serve the ends of the architects and their beneficiaries. Approximately an acre is needed for the redundant tank, we are being pressured to buy far in excess while being told "it's the least costly" and therefore the O'Neil property becomes the best option. 

- Not convinced Chester needs a redundant tank. To avoid depressurization during a worst-case seems excessive, we've survived thus far. And, Chester is not out of compliance with any statutes or laws to my knowledge.

- Also found info that redundency can come with its own downside, that is failure to properly and sufficiently do work necessary that would be done in it's absence.
Details of the project render it untenable as far as I'm concerned as some results are quite possibly illusory. Vague wording as to what we can actually be guaranteed is confusing. I am comfortable making needed repairs as we go along as other municipalities do, such as the plan to replace the 1000 or so yards of pipe suggested in the project. But go back to the drawing board folks and come back with a complete and fully verifiable project including funding mechanism and who will pay upfront in a timely manner not at a short time just prior to the vote. And please take the time to explain all options and answer questions completely rather than the fragmented mess this has been from the beginning contiuing to the present.

- Sandra Coursen, Chester


  1. Yea! You go.... :)

  2. Dam Straight, corrupt politics.

  3. Information is the key. Go to the public meetings. Educate yourself regarding the people you slander.


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