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To pave or not to pave

A public hearing on the Fuller Hill erosion control plan elicited a heated discussion amongst Warren residents about paving and traffic calming at the February 8 Warren Select Board meeting.

The proposed $119,259 project will address erosion and drainage issues on the lower 1,400 feet of Fuller Hill Road, including replacing 12 15-inch driveway culverts with 18-inch culverts and installing 160 feet of 24-inch culverts in the roadway.

The majority of the project will be paid for out of the highway department budget and a $10,000 Better Backroads grant. The town's road crew will complete all of the work including hauling stone, installing the road and driveway culverts and lining all rock ditching. 

Select board chair Andy Cunningham said that the public hearing follows years of discussion and concern by town officials about stormwater runoff and sediment flowing into the Mad River from the gravel road.

"For a couple of years the select board has been thinking about it; every year we spread gravel back on the roads, grade it, and the spring runoff takes it out again; from our perspective, paving is integral," he said.

"If we don't pave it, we'll lose all the sand and rock due to the runoff. We don't take it lightly that we're paving a section of road," Cunningham continued.

The cost of paving the 1,400 feet of 18-foot-wide road is $43,680. The town also plans on applying for a structure grant.

Warren Planning Commission chair and Fuller Hill Road resident Michael Ketchel took issue with the town's plan to pave the lower section citing concerns about the speed of traffic and the steep grade of the gravel road.

"If we pave a road which is quite steep, we have a serious speed problem; there are kids that walk on that road to school every day. The speed of traffic is going to increase," he said.

In addition, Ketchel said that the material used to rebuild the road after the flood was sub-standard and "if you put pavement on that road, the pavement is going to need to be rebuilt. It's a much larger endeavor than I think you've budgeted for."

When asked whether he was speaking as a member of the planning commission or as a resident, Ketchel said he was speaking as a landowner and taxpayer and said that the first he'd heard about the project was from a letter sent out to adjoining landowners.
"The select board has not mentioned a single thing about this project to the planning commission," Ketchel said.

President and founder of the Friends of the Mad River Kinny Perot said the project is something that has "been on a list we've had for a long time; [Fuller Hill Road] is considered one of the worst roads in The Valley for adding sediment to the river. After the 1998 flood, there were massive problems, a lot to do with culvert sizes with driveways; we were hopeful that something would be done about it."

Road commissioner Ray Weston said the cost of maintaining the road is approximately $4,000 annually and that paving would prevent sediment from flowing into the river.

"If you want to put a price on your natural resources, fine. We're going to be doing the work. It's not going to cost any more for pavement or non-pavement. I think paving is the biggest issue here; pavement is the choice," Weston said.

Select board member Kirsten Reilly said there are "two projects being put into one project; line the ditches and see what happens, pave it in the future if we think that's best. I'm hearing a lot of apprehension about paving, and I'm also concerned about the speed of traffic. It's a very dangerous spot."

According to the engineer's report, the benefits of the project include reduced stormwater runoff, less sweeping and maintenance, eliminating dust created by grading, increased efficiency of the drainage system, and stimulating the economy with jobs.

Select board member Matt Groom said he is against the paving because it changes the character of the area.

"I absolutely believe that people will be driving faster; enforcement and education don't help. Why now? $119,000 from the budget when we're presenting fixing the roads we already have at Town Meeting," he continued.

Cunningham said, "We don't know where we're going. That's what the hearing is about; our engineer couldn't be here tonight because he has the flu. It solves a lot of problems but may create some new problems."

"If the answer was paving then we would have paved Plunkton Road a while ago because it's awful in the spring. It is the job of the select board to keep the roads safe, cost effective and something we can be proud of. This isn't the select board trying to jam pavement down your throats," he continued.

Select board member Anson Montgomery said, "If you pave Fuller Hill Road more people will take it. I think it makes a difference and that's a particularly nasty corner. I'd like to get a better handle on what we can do. I'm not thrilled about the cost of this."

"Are the fish choking right now? Is this a catastrophe?" he asked.

Perot said that while the Friends of the Mad River aren't usually pro-paving, with its "proximity to the river, this is one of the places where you get mud and sediment into the river."

Select board member Bob Ackland said he was "uncomfortable if we don't have a clear picture. I don't have a sense that we truly understand the issues. It sounds like we just took a quick step. We don't have enough information. The other thing is, every time I turn around there is a grant driving something."

Cunningham suggested going back to the engineer as well as forming a committee and talking to landowners to further the discussion.

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