Much ado was made in Waitsfield recently when citizens came to the select board to complain about town projects and costs.
At a special meeting of the Waitsfield Select Board on May 31, town residents complained about Waitsfield’s town office project costs, the town’s covered bridge and Bridge Street project, the town’s pocket park project, the VTrans water main repair and the town’s west village sidewalk project.
Voters complained about the costs and grants and “project management.” That’s fair. But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that the town found itself in the unprecedented position after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 – as did many towns in Vermont. Damaged infrastructure required immediate work.
Consider the fact that the work on Waitsfield’s covered bridge and its abutments and pedestrian bridge plus the repaving and the sidewalks on Bridge Street was supposed to happen in 2012, but Tropical Storm Irene delayed that for two years.
The former Waitsfield town office was flooded during Irene and the town continued its previous work to find a new home for the town office (and successfully received a grant and passed a bond to fund that project).
Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the photography studio that used to sit at the western end of the covered bridge – which led the Vermont Downtown Action Team (V-DAT) to target it for a pocket park grant – construction of which got underway last month and will be completed next month.
A VTrans contractor broke Waitsfield’s water main leaving the town with no option other than to immediately create a temporary repair and follow state public water supply rules to create a permanent fix. That was not discretionary. The only discretionary project in this extraordinary six-year period was the west village sidewalk – construction of which hasn’t begun.
It’s great when citizens hold their town government accountable. The reality is that a devastating storm resulted in Waitsfield facing the need to deal with infrastructure repairs in the aftermath. Waitsfield, and all the towns in The Valley, have volunteer select board members and limited staff to handle these multimillion-dollar projects.
With the news that there is no town office grant funding crisis in Waitsfield, the hard work and successes of the volunteer board and limited staff should be celebrated.