By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Joel Bouvier and Garland “Chico” Martin square off next week on Bristol’s Town Meeting Day in a race for a three-year seat on the town’s selectboard.
In one of relatively few selectboard races in Addison County, the two are vying for a position on the board currently occupied by Doug Corkins, who decided against running again this year.
Both Bouvier and Martin, while coming from different backgrounds, pointed to economic development in Bristol as one of the key challenges the selectboard will have to tackle in the years head.
Bouvier, a lifelong resident of Bristol, graduated from Mount Abraham Union High School. He has served 24 years in the town’s fire department, has taught fire education in local grade schools, and owned his own construction business in the area for 26 years before moving to his current position as the facilities manager for the National Bank of Middlebury.
Bouvier also served as the president of the Bristol Recreation Club in the early 1980s, has served as a member of the club’s board of trustees, and helped construct the town skating rink.
“I think the town has some real pressing issues, and I think my experience in years past can help out,” said Bouvier.
Bouvier said the town’s infrastructure tops the list of his concerns. He recalled two major floods in recent years, as well as an ice storm the town weathered. The floods in particular, Bouvier said, pointed to a need for more investment in storm water infrastructure.
“I want to see us going after funds, grants, federal funds to help do our infrastructure work,” he said. “I would like to see us be proactive.”
Bouvier pointed out that while the town is typically successful at securing funding after a flood disaster, homeowners are often left to shoulder their own expensive repairs.
Bouvier praised the town’s administration, and said he felt that Bristol’s leaders were steering the town in the right course. He did express concern about the growing burden of taxes on Bristol residents. A lister in town for 15 years, Bouvier said his work took him into the homes of many Bristol residents, and he said he noticed over that time that tax bills became more and more of a burden for middle-income residents.
Bouvier also worried about the growing expense of the police department. He didn’t know how much longer the police district’s small tax base would be able to support the cost of police operations.
“I think we have a very good police department,” Bouvier said. “But how to pay for it, that’s my concern.”
Bouvier described himself as “pretty tight with (his) dollar,” but he stressed that he wasn’t opposed to spending if it would save the town money in the long run.
“I want to get the best bang for my buck, and I don’t like to spend money foolishly,” said Bouvier. “If you’re going to do a project … you’ve got to look at all the possibilities.”
In looking toward the future, Bouvier said he’d like to see Bristol invite more light, clean industry into the town, and said he’d like to see the selectboard pursue grants or economic development money to potentially develop land on North Street or Plank Road into a small industrial park.
Bouvier’s opponent, Martin, agreed that development is going to be a key issue in Bristol in the years ahead.
“I think that development should be limited to light industry, and I also think that development should create new jobs,” said Martin. “The related issue is the longstanding attempt to establish business parks in the town. I think the town really needs to aggressively pursue the development of sustainable business parks.”
In going door-to-door in Bristol to talk to voters, Martin said he’s heard a lot of concern about what will happen when Bristol-based manufacturer Autumn Harp finally leaves its Munsill Avenue plant. The personal care products maker announced last fall it is moving operations to Essex.
“We’ve done a really good job of incubating businesses in town, but we need to develop the resources to keep business in town once they have been successfully incubated,” he said.
Martin moved to Vermont 38 years ago, and has lived in Bristol for the past 20 years. He owned and operated the Alley Beat, a book and music store in Middlebury, for 13 years before selling the business.
Now, Martin works as director of operations and administration at the New School of Montpelier, an independent school that serves children and young adults with emotional and behavioral problems.
Martin served as a trustee of Bristol’s Lawrence Memorial Library while the library secured a grant to install its elevator. He served as a volunteer chaplain’s assistant at the Porter nursing home in Middlebury and a volunteer curator’s assistant at the Fleming Museum in Burlington. Martin also worked on the board of the Willowell Foundation in Monkton, which supports sustainable land use.
Most recently, Martin has served on the Bristol Planning Commission. He was appointed to the commission a year ago, and since then has contributed to the drafting of the new town plan. He said he wants to see the selectboard work to implement the goals and policies outlined in the draft plan.
If elected to the selectboard, Martin would continue to serve the remaining year on his Planning Commission term as well.
He also said that the experience of working on the commission — and building a consensus document out of widely varying and often disparate opinions — lays the groundwork for doing similar work on the selectboard if elected.
Martin pointed to the issue of gravel pits as one controversial issue that he knows will affect Bristol in the years ahead. Because of his position on the Planning Commission, Martin did not wish to disclose his personal views on gravel extraction in Bristol, but he said that the selectboard will need to tackle the issue from all sides.
“It’s a very divisive issue, and people have strong opinions about it on both sides, and the important thing is that everybody’s opinion and input is heard and listened to, and that people feel that the selectboard is being responsive to their concerns,” said Martin.
Bristol voters will choose between the two candidates in Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, March 3. Polls at Holley Hall will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to elect town and school officers.
In other races, incumbent John “Peeker” Heffernan is running unopposed for his two-year seat on the selectboard.
Elin Melchior and Karl Ginalski, both incumbents, appear on the ballot for two one-year seats on the elementary school’s board of directors. No candidate is running for the three-year seat on the school’s board, but Kelly Laliberte has asked Bristol voters to consider her as a write-in candidate for the position.
At the high school, Brian Fox and Dick Merrill are both running for a one-year seat on the Mount Abe board. Incumbent Pam Jennings is running unopposed for a three-year seat on the board.