The Valley Reporter 2015 Year In Review

The beautification of Bridge Street

The closure of Bridge Street and the covered bridge for almost seven months – and all the things that went wrong and right with that project – was one of the biggest stories of the year.

The project involved removing and replacing the pedestrian walkway from the covered bridge and also fixing decking as well as replacing the abutments. Concurrently, Bridge Street was closed so that it could be repaved after the stormwater system was repaired.

It was funded by both grant money and taxpayer funds and remained on schedule at first, despite a very rainy June, and the Mad Marathon runners were able to run up the street and through the covered bridge for the July event.

Things got delayed when excavating for the abutments led to the discovery of ledge and prolonged jackhammering was required. The elevations for the abutments weren’t properly provided and that required more engineering and revising of the work.

But things weren’t all bad; two local people came to the select board this past summer requesting the opportunity to sell engraved accent bricks to border the sidewalks that were being poured. The two, AnneMarie DeFreest and Barbra Gulisano, received permission to sell the bricks and successfully raised enough funds to further upgrade the Bridge Street project so that it included streetlights, benches made with timbers from the covered bridge and accent bricks for the two new abutments. Their project was enormously successful and the engraved bricks bearing names, messages and commentary are a great attraction on Bridge Street.

Many people gathered and watched on a sunny October day when a 75-foot crane lifted the new steel pedestrian walkway into place, settling it on the new abutments as those watching cheered.

The project ran over budget and into the middle of November and ultimately did not include repairing the roof or putting a roof on the new pedestrian walkway, which will be completed in the spring. The town has applied for grants to cover the cost overruns and partially fund the roof.

Economic Vitality workshop series wraps up

Last summer and fall, the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) and the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted a series of Economic Vitality workshops in which local business owners talked about the challenges they face and strategized potential solutions.

One of the biggest challenges was how to overcome The Valley’s reliance on the ski industry and the intense seasonal fluctuations it creates. “We need more year-round activities” was the sentiment that echoed across every workshop.

But the activities have to fit with the character of The Valley, business owners said, which they described as authentic and outdoorsy. “We don’t want a water park,” they said, referring to the recent installation at Jay Peak Resort, and “We don’t want to become a Stowe.”

Regarding tourism, workshop attendees agreed that The Valley needs a more cohesive marketing message as well as more affordable housing, which could make it easier for businesses across economic sectors to find and keep qualified employees.

The results of the workshops were presented by the chamber at the 2015 MRV Economic Summit on December 17 at the Sugarbush Gate House Lodge. For each of economic asset areas – such as innovative economy, health and wellness, recreation and food systems – an alliance was formed by representative business owners and community members. In a session where audience members could visit tables for each alliance, they learned about more specific ideas for economic growth in each category. Many spoke of increased ecotourism and different kinds of retreats that could be offered in The Valley.

Changes at Warren Elementary School

Last September, the Warren School Board accepted the resignation of Warren Elementary School principal Jill Ballou. She was replaced by Elizabeth Peterson of Waitsfield with whom the board signed a two-year contract.

In addition to nearly 30 years of experience in Vermont’s education system, as a Valley resident, Peterson “already has a relationship with some of you folks,” Warren School Board member Alycia Biondo told residents last September,” explaining that Peterson is willing to take on the challenges that come with serving as principal in the school’s current climate, in which the community was still recovering from the board’s decision not to renew the contract of longtime administrative assistant Laurie Jones.

Soon after, Peterson and the Warren School Board also dealt with accusations that former principal Andreas Lehner had accessed confidential student information after his retirement in 2012, which Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) Brigid Scheffert Nease reported to the Vermont Agency of Education (AOR) in mid-September. Lehner has denied the allegation.

The school also worked to remedy a series of building and grounds issues found by VSBIT in 2009 and community members volunteered their time to several projects. Issues that require a contractor will be addressed in 2016 and the board has issued a request for proposals (RFP) this December. The board will announce a bond vote in the near future, and the public will vote in late April.

Waitsfield breaks ground on new town offices, rejects bank location

Waitsfield selected a contractor to build its new town office late this spring after rejecting a petition that called for the town to buy the former People’s United Bank building in the Mad River Green Shopping Center when that building became empty in July. The town did look at the space – which featured a vault – but rejected it in favor of continuing the process of building anew on a lot at the north end of Waitsfield Village.

The project was over its $1.3 million budget before ground was broken. The project is funded by a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant as well as up to $650,000 in taxpayer funds. Waitsfield, Moretown and other towns in Vermont received such grants to help move critical infrastructure out of the flood plain after Tropical Storm Irene hit in August 2011. The town applied for another $225,000 in grant funding but received only $180,000 in additional funds.

Construction continued throughout the fall and in November it was discovered that the roof rafters had been installed 18 inches too low, which impacted space in the second floor public meeting room as well as misaligned architectural features and other issues.

The select board asked the architects and contractor to redo the work and adhere to the original plans. The roof rafters were raised, but a beam was left in the second floor meeting room which lowered that ceiling from 18 feet to 15 feet. That caused some public grumbling as well as discontent from the select board, even though the architects apologized for the misunderstanding.

The building is almost framed in and is expected to be completed next spring, ending a many-year debate over whether the town office should have been moved to an existing historic building in the village, built in Irasville or constructed at the current site.

The town of Moretown breaks ground on new town office

On September 28, Moretown started construction of its new town office at the former site of the Moretown Elementary School playground.

This past fall, Ruggco Inc. worked to get the building enclosed and insulated so that it can continue construction through the winter. The projected completion date for the new town office is March or April of 2016.

This past June, the Moretown Select Board worked with Erickson and Bill Gallup of Maclay Architects to get Ruggco’s bid for the project down from $766,015 to $742,904. Adding in administrative fees and other soft costs – including a $40,000 construction contingency – the project will cost an estimated $839,401 total. Currently, Moretown has $786,239 available for the project – $700,000 of which comes from a Vermont Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

To help cover the $40,000 construction contingency cost, Moretown applied for an additional $50,000 in grant money for the new town office, but the state denied the application. “With the way it’s going so far, they think we’re going to come in under budget,” town administrator Cheryl Brown said in late October, explaining that if that changes, the town can submit another application for additional funding.

After working with fire department, Sugarbush breaks ground on Gadd Brook

This past July, Sugarbush Resort broke ground on Gadd Brook Residences, a four-story, 40,000-square-foot condominium complex that will be constructed at Lincoln Peak, just south of Sugarbush Village.

A 16-unit, full ownership complex, Gadd Brook Residences is one of six mixed-use buildings that comprise the Lincoln Peak Base Area Redevelopment Phase II Master Plan, which if completed would add approximately 93 residential units to the base of the mountain.

Margo Wade, Sugarbush’s director of planning and regulatory compliance, presented the plan for Gadd Brook Residences to the Warren Development Review Board (DRB) at a public hearing last February, at which several members of the Warren Volunteer Fire Department voiced their concerns about the building’s size and accessibility in case of an emergency.

In the months following, the resort and the fire department worked together to come up with two Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), one of which outlined the specific permit conditions for the building’s construction and the other planning for future fire safety in town. Both parties signed the MOUs last April.

Mountainside appeals Act 250 denial, enters mediation, seeks local permit

The board of the Mountainside Condominium Association has completed mediation with the state of Vermont over the Agency of Natural Resources denial of an Act 250 permit for the association to rebuild the 36 units that burned in Sugarbush Village in February 2014.

In January 2016, the condo association will appear before the Warren Development Review board to begin the local permitting process again.

The February 2014 fire completely destroyed one of the three buildings that are part of Mountainside. The complex was completely full on the night of the fire, which required the Warren Volunteer Fire Department plus six additional fire departments to extinguish.

The April Act 250 denial hinged on the distance between the condominium and Rice Brook, leading the commission to find the project not in compliance with review criteria covering floodways, stream impact, soil erosion and conformance with local and regional plans, Criteria 10.

Mountainside was originally permitted in 1979, with Act 250 approval. After last year’s fire, association members hired a firm to design and engineer the rebuild and also selected a general contractor. The association had received state wastewater permits as well as local permits from the town of Warren – which require that the project conform to Warren’s Town Plan.

Mountainside had already received its local permits from the town of Warren. The Warren Development Review Board found that the project, as proposed, did not increase the nonconforming aspects of the previous structure (height of building, stream setback and parking space size); rather it decreased them by lowering overall height, changing parking space size and increasing the distance from the stream bank.

Sugarbush replaces Valley House lift

When the ski season ended last spring, Sugarbush removed the existing Valley House double chair and began construction of a new Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad chair. The old chair was auctioned off for charity earlier this summer. The new lift is up and running, awaiting only Mother Nature to be opened.
The new Valley House Quad will increase the uphill capacity of the current lift from 748 to 1,800 people per hour and cut the ride time to approximately eight minutes. The lift should help eliminate any lift lines in the base area and provide a reliable backup lift to the Super Bravo Express Quad.

The base of the new Valley House Quad will include a loading conveyor and will be located where the current mountain operations building now sits, allowing closer proximity to the base area. The new lift will also terminate lower, between towers 13 and 14 of the current lift on The Mall, which will eliminate the intersection of people off-loading from the lift with skiers and riders on Valley House Traverse.

Friends of the Mad River get watershed-wide stormwater grant

Last summer, Friends of the Mad River received a $60,000 grant from the High Meadows Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation – one of six grants awarded throughout the state. They will use it next year to plan for a long-term approach to issues of stormwater runoff. Because stormwater travels from buildings, parking areas, roads and farms, streams are filled more quickly than in a natural settings, increasing the risk of flooding as well as the transportation of unhealthy pollutants.

A taskforce was created to act as the project’s main source of organization. The Watershed-Wide Water Management Program (W3MP) is composed of representatives from select boards and planning commissions of Waitsfield, Fayston, Warren, Moretown and Duxbury in collaboration with Friends of the Mad River and other interested community members. Town representatives will act as liaisons between the towns, task force and public.

The group hired the Montpelier-based environmental consulting firm Stone Environmental and Birchline Planning of Rutland to study “what actually happens on the ground compared to what the regulations are,” Miller said, and W3MP will use this data to create recommendations for town water management by next winter.

Richard Laws released from prison

In April, Richard Laws was released from the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury.

After attacking Warren resident Sue Russell in 1992, Laws was charged and convicted of kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated physical assault. He was sentenced to prison for 25 to 30 years and was released after maxing out his sentence at 23 years.

In anticipation of Laws’ release, Valley residents attended multiple “Come, Unite!” community awareness meetings in support of Russell and other victims of violent crimes. Prior to Laws’ release, Russell filed a “final order against stalking or sexual assault” that requires Laws to stay away from her and from the towns of Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston for 10 years.

Laws is considered a high-risk sex offender and, according to The Valley’s representative to the state Legislature Maxine Grad of Moretown, because of a bill passed this year he was required to notify authorities of where he planned to go prior to his release, as opposed to three days after.

Upon his release, Laws was reported living in Barre, but this past fall he updated his address to Huntington.

WWSU takes first steps under Act 46

This fall, the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) Board started investigating its options under Act 46 which will consolidate school districts across the state by 2019. This consolidation refers to school boards and budgets.

In September, the WWSU Board designated which members from each town will serve on a study committee for the new state law. The executive committee and study committee have been meeting on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Harwood Union High School library to discuss what school district consolidation will look like for Washington West. All meetings are open to the public.

The committee decided to proceed on an accelerated path toward the merger which includes tax incentives and the public will vote on the acceleration in May or June of 2016. The acceleration must be approved by July 2016 to receive the incentives.

But if the vote does not pass, “We’re not out of the game,” Brigid Scheffert Nease said, explaining that the study committee will continue to meet in order to investigate the creation of a Regional Education District (RED) under Act 153 or the creation of a Modified Unified Union School District (MUUSD) under Act 156.

The state is allowing school districts who embark on an accelerated path to devise a series of guidelines that would supplement the law and the study committee has been working with consultants to craft 15 articles that they will soon submit to the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE). These articles would be in effect should the vote for the accelerated merger pass.

Lareau Bridge to be replaced

VTrans has hired a contractor to replace Bridge 177 on Route 100 over the Mad River between Lareau Farm and The Elusive Moose.

VTrans has also changed the dates when Route 100 will be closed for the project, from mid-May to mid-June, opening by July 4, to mid-June through mid-July, closed for July 4.

VTrans project manager Rob Young said that after discussions with the Fayston Select Board about the impact of closing Route 100 (and detouring traffic around the closure via Route 17, German Flats and Sugarbush Access Road), the board expressed a preference for the detour occurring after school gets out in mid-June.

VTrans has hired A.L. St. Onge as the contractor to replace the bridge during the 2016 construction season.

The bridge was built in 1938 and now is in poor condition. The new bridge will improve safety and meet current design standards. Construction will begin in April/May 2016 and is scheduled for completion in September 2016. The cost of the bridge replacement is estimated at approximately $4,220,668.

The closure will take place from mid-June, for approximately 35 days. During the bridge closure period, traffic will be detoured from Route 100 to Route 17 to German Flats Road to Sugarbush Access Road and connect to Route 100.

After Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011, VTrans accelerated construction methods out of necessity and from that experience learned to build faster bridges while minimizing project impacts. The Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) was implemented in 2012 to improve the condition of Vermont’s waterway crossings while reducing project costs through expedited project development, delivery and construction.

With Accelerated Bridge Construction, bridge components are constructed off-site and then installed using heavy lifting equipment. During construction, a bridge closure will be in effect for 35 days beginning in mid-June. During this closure, traffic will be rerouted on a detour route.

Rotary takes over Vermont Music Fest

Last year, after Vermont Music Fest organizer Jeff Mack of Warren announced he would no longer be hosting the popular community event, the Mad River Rotary Club stepped in to take it over.

On Saturday, August 8, over 1,600 people attended the sixth annual Vermont Music Fest at Lareau Farm in Waitsfield to eat, drink and dance to rock, reggae and more. In hosting the event, "We hope that as a club, we dispelled some of the myths about us just being a bunch of old fogies,” Rotary president Chris Pierson of Duxbury said. “We are relevant, we care about the community in which we live and we intend to continue volunteering for activities which benefit The Valley," he said.

Next year, Rotary is moving the festival to Kenyon’s Field and expanding it with two days and one night of music, camping and a brunch on the day of departure.

Tweed River Music Fest successful

The organizers of the Tweed River Music Festival, which was held at Kenyon’s Field July 31 through August 2, had a successful first year in Waitsfield, despite some complaints about music running past the permitted hours. The organizers met with the Waitsfield Select Board after the fact to talk about what went wrong at the three-day music festival, what went right and how things will proceed going forward.

Bow Thayer and Jeremy Curtis as well as Laurie Bullet and Robert Shaffer met with the Waitsfield Select Board to talk about permit violations during the festival. Thayer and Curtis had previously sent a letter of apology for letting performers continue after the midnight deadline and amplifying a second stage rather than only one.

Organizers Jeremy Curtis and Bow Thayer received a permit that allowed music to continue until midnight and called for traffic control. The permit did not include music on Thursday night. Music went well past the appointed hour on Friday and Saturday nights and on Friday included amplification on a second stage – which hadn’t been described in the permit application.

That volume of the music and the lateness of the music drew complaints from town residents who described music that sounded like screaming, going on until 2 a.m.

The town and the organizers expressed confidence that the festival could return a second year.

Waitsfield changes how Town Meeting will be held

The Waitsfield Select Board acted on several recommendations from the Town Meeting Study Group aimed at increasing participation in the annual event.

Starting with next year’s Town Meeting, the meeting will start at 5 p.m. with the town budget to be discussed and voted on as close to 6:30 p.m. as possible. Members of the committee recommended this change in hopes of attracting voters whose day jobs interfere with their ability to attend and participate in Town Meeting.

Committee members Deri Meier, Sally Kendall and Nancy Turner discussed the proposed changes with the select board at an August 24 meeting. They were appointed by the select board after Town Meeting 2014 to look at ways to increase Town Meeting participation. Meier spearheaded an effort to have voters approve voting for budgets via Australian ballot in 2014. After much debate from the floor, that effort failed but led to the creation of the committee. As part of their work they researched what other communities have done to increase participation. They also conducted a survey of voters.

Board members discussed whether a meeting that started at 5 p.m. would provide enough time and whether there could or would still be a communal meal as part of the meeting. The town business portion of Town Meeting generally runs between 3 and 3 ½ hours.

Committee member Nancy Turner told the board that Middlesex, which has changed its Town Meeting start time to 4 p.m., has people bring bag lunches to eat in their chairs and volunteers organize dessert for when everything is done.

Waitsfield Elementary School principal Kaiya Korb was present at the meeting to represent the feelings of the school board on the matter. Korb pointed out that the school board would have to vote to have the school meeting at 4 p.m., prior to Town Meeting.

Joslin Hill got shimmed

After talking about the pros and cons interminably, Joslin Hill Road in Waitsfield was shimmed, a $75,000 fix that was approved by voters at Town Meeting in 2015. The work took place this summer while Bridge Street was closed.

The shim is a stop-gap measure that may last three to five years and was the subject of much debate between the members of the select board and the public over the last 18 months.

The road was in very poor shape and the select board has, for some time, been considering whether to fix it properly or find some short-term measure. The question was whether to rebuild (and potentially improve) or shim Joslin Hill Road.

Estimates of projected costs of reconstruction have ranged from $1 million to $2 million.

Taxpayers concerned about the safety of people walking and biking on the road have asked the select board to look into whether the shoulder on either side of the road could be widened. The town had a grant to look into whether the pedestrian and bike safety could be improved without destroying the character of the road, but the select board voted to reject that grant.

The board itself was split on whether the road should be shimmed and could buy the town some time to complete other projects such as Bridge Street work and completion of the new town office.

Mad River Path looks into pedestrian route along Access Road

This fall, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) approved a $25,000 grant for the town of Warren to fund a scoping study that will determine the feasibility of building a 1.5- mile pedestrian path along Sugarbush Access Road.

The Mad River Path Association submitted the grant application this past summer, after its executive director, Will Flender, approached the town. Sugarbush Access Road “is not really a safe place to be walking – and sometimes biking,” Flender told the Warren Select Board at a meeting this past June. An alternative to traveling on the road could become “a pretty important facility, because of the population density of that area,” he said, referring to the many condos up at the resort.

The scoping study, moving forward, will look into right-of-way and land ownership issues, potential physical and natural resource constraints, preliminary costs, routing and other factors relating to the construction of a walkway along the upper portion of Sugarbush Access Road from Eurich Pond Road to Inferno Road.

In accepting the VTrans grant, the town is responsible for a 10 percent match – or $2,500 – toward which Sugarbush Resort has said they will contribute $1,000. Moving forward, Flender and the path association will continue to shepherd the project in coordination with the town’s select board, which will act as the project manager. The study is expected to be completed within 2016.

Flender said that the town could most likely receive additional VTrans funding for construction of the path, but that they would need to provide a 10 to 20 percent match. He suggested that the board consider options for funding their portion – whether a bond, the creation of a reserve fund, community donations or “some other novel approaches.”

Next phase of Universal Recycling Law takes effect

Last summer, it technically became illegal to throw out soda cans in the state of Vermont.

According to the Universal Recycling Law, or Act 148, as of July 1 all recyclables must be diverted from the waste stream. That includes number one and two plastics, aluminum, paper and other materials “that are relatively easy to take out of the trash,” Mad River Resource Management Alliance director John Malter said.

When the Vermont Legislature first passed Act 148 in 2012, a lot of conversations focused on its criteria for composting. Starting in 2014, generators of over 52 tons of food scraps were required to divert those organic materials from the waste stream. By 2020, all Vermonters will be required to do the same, although there is no such requirement at the residential level.

The Universal Recycling Law is being enacted in several phases. With the most recent phase, which requires that all recyclables be diverted from the waste stream, transfer stations could check to make sure bottles and cans aren’t being thrown out.

Also starting July 1, municipally owned properties such as town offices, schools, libraries and parks that have trash cans are also required to have recycling bins.

Karen Horn of Vermont League of Cities and Towns, reported that the league has found issues with the implementation – that “one size does not fit all” – she said at the MRV town leadership meeting in December.

Horn said that all towns agree to recycle, but “the way you get there varies considerably.” While larger towns find no problem with creating transfer stations and employing haulers for recyclable trash, it does not always run smoothly for smaller rural communities. Horn and her colleagues are asking for more flexibility with the legislation and, she said, the more local officials that get involved, the better response The Valley will receive from the state.

Town, state debate permitting requirements at Grow Compost

Earlier this summer, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) approved Grow Compost of Vermont’s request to revoke its solid waste certification, agreeing that because the Route 2 facility feeds all of its food scraps to chickens instead of directly composting them, the certification no longer applies.

Grow Compost has also withdrawn its application to renew its Act 250 permit, which expired in December, stating that it no longer engages in any activity that falls within Act 250 jurisdiction and will instead be regulated by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

The town of Moretown, upon receiving notification of the regulatory changes at the local business, actively opposed them. In a July letter, Moretown’s attorney, Richard Saudek, wrote to the state, “a farm used primarily for the purpose of raising crops or livestock may engage in subsidiary composting operations without an Act 250 permit,” but – as their name implies – that is not Grow Compost’s main objective. The town was concerned about odor complaints connected to the site and with the solid waste certification revoked, the state is no longer required to regulate these complaints.

In October, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Alyssa Schuren appointed John Wakefield and Matt Chapman of the DEC to act as odor claim investigator and general counsel, respectively. Board members were concerned about how odor violations could be enforced, “If it comes down to nothing more than your nose.” But Wakefield has never been able to confirm an odor, acknowledging that “there is no real technology that we could use.”

Mad River Community Solar Farm built in Waitsfield

A community solar farm has been constructed for two lots in Waitsfield, north and east of Allen Lumber and the Big Picture Theater on Carroll Road.

The project is a collaboration between Nils Behn of Aegis Renewable Energy in Waitsfield and Eric Brattstrom and Dotty Kyle of Warren. The project allows individuals in the community to purchase panels to offset their electricity use at their homes via group net-metering. It will be a private, member-controlled LLC.

The panels are fixed panels versus trackers and the farm will produce 150 kW, enough power for approximately 30 to 40 families. The solar farm location is in close proximity to the large electrical transmission lines needed to bring the power into the grid.

There are wetlands on the lots and the modules will be mounted on driven piles to avoid disruption of the soil.

The way the project is structured, when people buy the panels to offset their power use at their homes, they can retain ownership of the panels if they move or they can sell them with their property.

The panels are designed for 25 years but generally last closer to 30. Those who purchase them can expect to spend between $6,000 to $10,000 for panels, depending on whether they want to offset some or all of their electricity use and depending on how much they use.

Solar lot proposed for Moretown

SunCommon representative William Northrop pitched the company’s plan to construct a 1.3-acre solar plot for 25 to 30 residential properties in Moretown. The Community Solar Array (CSA) of about 780 panels would be for current customers of Green Mountain Power who are interested in solar energy but do not have enough access to sun on their own land.

Members could buy shares of the CSA tailored to their energy usage and SunCommon would retain ownership of the panels. The land – a field on the north side of Howes Road, close to the intersection of Hathaway Road – is owned by Duane Howes who has leased the parcel to SunCommon. The company said that users would see a 7 percent savings in costs as compared to traditional energy costs.

SunCommon conducted a site visit in September, investigated wetland areas further in October, filed a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) with the PSB on November 16 and are hoping to receive approval in early January. After the project is accepted by the state’s PSB, a “locals-only campaign” will begin. SunCommon will work with local restaurants, breweries and inns to attract potential members.

Community and board members voiced a number of concerns regarding the company’s financial viability, the aesthetic and disposal of the panels and the short window for public comment – a mere 30 days, which board members said was under “rushed circumstances.” Planning commission chair Jonathan Siegel said that such projects are being “hustled through” all over the state.

But the issue of town agency loomed larger in this discussion. Karen Horn of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns said that “every time there’s a sizeable proposal, towns realize how much voice they don’t have.” Regardless of how long a town board has to represent public concerns, one board member said, “The public service board can do whatever they want.”

Schools transition to new standardized test

This spring, students in Valley schools took the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), a new statewide standardized test that will replace the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).

As its name implies, the SBAC really is smart. The assessment is administered via computer and accessed over a secure system on the Web. Within the WWSU, students took the test on laptops, netbooks and iPads outfitted with keyboards.

“It’s all about the technology,” Michael Hock, director of education assessment for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said. The SBAC is able to adapt to each student as he or she is taking the test, thus providing a set of questions that is appropriate for his or her ability level.

Before the SBAC, questions on tests like the NECAP were designed to be mostly around the middle ability level, meaning that “your brightest kids and your most struggling kids had less opportunity to show what they know.” The scores from the new adaptive test, according to Hock, will be a better indicator of students’ abilities.

As of this past May, about 90 percent of schools throughout the state reported they had completed the SBAC for this year, “and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Hock said, citing one educator who emailed him saying “the test was engaging, that the technology worked, that the teachers were able to learn it pretty quickly,” Hock said.

Warren looks into options for donated land

Last winter, the town of Warren accepted a donation of 50 acres of land with outdoor recreation opportunities, and this past January Mad River Path Association vice president Mac Rood received the Warren Select Board’s support to look into the feasibility of installing a pedestrian suspension bridge on a property known as the Top Gas Parcel.

The Top Gas Parcel, which is located on Route 100 just south of its intersection with Sugarbush Access Road, is 1.5 acres of a 50-acre property that a private landowner donated to the town last October. The other 48-plus acres are located across the Mad River, hence the need for a way to access them.

“On the recreational front, I’ve spoken with several people in the biking community who are very interested in exploring the idea of trails there,” select board member Matt Groom said of the wooded, hilly land across the river.

As it stands, the donated parcel is almost contiguous with other town-owned pieces of land, including Riverside Park on the west side of the river and the Eaton Forest on the east side of the river, which already boast sections of multi-use trails built by the Mad River Path Association.

“The more we can link that stuff together, the more attractive those trail networks will be,” Groom said.

New trail at Blueberry Lake

This past fall, the Mad River Riders worked with professionals and Vermont Youth Conservation Corporation (VYCC) volunteers to update a few miles of trails throughout The Valley, as well as construct a new trail at Blueberry Lake in Warren.

The new half-mile trail, Suki’s Alley, will connect with the network’s existing trails, Tootsie Roll and Lenord’s Loop. Like the existing five miles of trails on United States Forest Service (USFS) land at Blueberry Lake, Suki’s Alley will be multi-use, meaning it will be open to hikers and cross-country skiers. But it was designed and built with mountain biking in mind.

“We’re trying to keep it really narrow,” Brooke Scatchard of Sinuosity said during construction of Suki’s Alley, which will include berms and a bridge and will be “more challenging” than the network’s existing trails, he said.

Mad River Riders used grant funds to hire Sinuosity to build Suki’s Alley. Last year, the Riders, the Mad River Valley Planning District, the USFS and several other organizations and individuals received a 2014 Chief’s Honor Award for the trails at Blueberry Lake, which have become immensely popular with both locals and visitors alike.

Moretown completes re-engineering of Mountain Road

This past summer, some Moretown residents endured a lengthy detour as construction crews worked on the bottom of Moretown Mountain Road.

In September of 2014, the Moretown Select Board accepted a bid from G.W. Tatro Construction for $341,555 to re-engineer and reconstruct the pavement on the steep hill leading down into the village. The town received a $160,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to offset the cost of the reconstruction project, which was designed to increase visibility at the road’s intersection with Route 100B as well as improve its condition to meet VTrans standards.

Phase 1 of the project, which took place during the fall of 2014, involved relocating power and telephone poles as well as cutting, filling, stabilizing and paving within the town right of way. During Phase 1, the 1,000-foot stretch of road from the intersection of Moretown Mountain Road and Route 100 to Moretown Common Road was closed to nonresidential traffic for about one month.

Crews started on Phase II of the project this past June and completed it by the end of July, also fixing an unexpected drainage issue that arose during construction. For the most part, the road was closed to nonresidential traffic and a detour redirected drivers to Moretown Common Road, although at times crews were able to reopen the road to cars after 5 p.m.