The decision by the Waitsfield Select Board to reject a state grant for $369,500 to extend a sidewalk on the west side of Route 100 from Valley Players Theater to Farr Lane represents a lost opportunity. That sidewalk would replace an existing asphalt sidewalk.
The board voted to reject the grant after hearing public concerns from supporters as well as opponents and after hashing out the concerns of board members or how the sidewalk was proposed. That sidewalk would have extended a sidewalk that begins at Old County Road and ends at Valley Players Theater. There are legitimate concerns from the owner of The Village Grocery that the sidewalk would end up causing the removal of the store's sign which is currently grandfathered in place.
There are concerns from residents about the fact that state grants come with strings attached in terms of design specs and protocols. But there is also a great deal of agreement on the need for safer ways for schoolchildren and village residents – and all pedestrians – to be able to move safely through the village.
The $369,500 grant comes with a 10 percent match and there was some question about what the town could do on its own with its own share of that money, $36,950.
There was a representative of VTrans at this week's select board meeting (who is also a resident of Waitsfield) who said that the state is interested in working with towns to make such projects work.
It's unfortunate that the town threw the baby out with the bath water in rejecting the grant. Surely for a project that is still in the planning phases there could have been a way to make it work. Surely creative minds could have come up with a solution to protect The Village Grocery's sign while also protecting the pedestrians. Surely we are this smart, right?
While two board members favored working with the state to take advantage of the grant and avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, two other board members wanted to reject the grant and the tie was broken by the board chair who opined that the state cannot be trusted. This is the same state who rushed to help The Valley and Vermont after repeated bouts of flooding before and after Tropical Storm Irene and the same state that just completed repaving our section of Route 100 as well as the Kingsbury Bridge.
"The state" isn't some evil monstrosity that sits like a troll in Montpelier anxious to squash local independence. The state is us.