The Mad River West Greenway was badly damaged during Tropical Storm Irene, leading landowner Elwin Neill to repair the streambank and the path with equipment he rented and stone from his own quarry.
Neill and the Mad River Path Association were under the assumption that at least some of the costs would be reimbursed by FEMA, as the town holds the deeded easement on the greenway.
For a variety of reasons, some communication, some clerical, but all without malice, proper FEMA procedures were not followed and Neill was left on the hook with a $20,000 bill for fixing the streambank and path land.
To his credit, he explored every possible state and federal program seeking some help with the cost of those repairs and found none. (It is ironic that there are no such resources for farmers to protect agricultural land when the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has just released its post-Irene report and notes that crop loss and damages to crop land are greater than $10 million.)
And Waitsfield, when presented with the bill, was reluctant to shoulder the whole burden. Certainly the town holds the easement, and certainly accepting gifts of land and recreation easements comes with the risk of costs.
While it is understandable that the town, reeling already from flooding in May and then August, is reluctant to pay the bill, it’s just not fair to lay this financial liability on the landowner who donated the easement to the town in the first place.
The town acknowledges that and also acknowledged that Neill has done yeoman’s work over the years fixing the path and streambank during many smaller flood events. The town asked instead that it be shared by the path association and the Mad River Valley Recreation District.
That is appropriate. The path association’s paths run through Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston. The greenway and the entire system are a shared resource and a shared asset. They should also be a shared financial burden. Neill offered to donate 25 percent of the costs and Waitsfield offered to pay 25 percent, leaving the Mad River Path Association and the Mad River Valley Recreation District to fund the balance.
That means taxpayers in Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston, who fund the Mad River Valley Recreation District, will be paying for those repairs. And members of the path association, through dues and contributions, will be paying for those repairs.
That’s how it should be.