By Lisa Loomis

The Waitsfield Select Board approved the final application for Open Hearth/Mad River Path Association to create a path around the town pond and behind the movie theater in Irasville.

The board, at its September 22 meeting, discussed the joint application to create the path on approximately six acres, through state designated wetlands. The project requires state approval. The Open Hearth Community Group will undertake the project next spring.

The board also discussed how to repair the dam at the north end of the pond. That dam failed this spring, leading to a deep sinkhole. The town earned a reprimand from the state for releasing water from the pond (to reduce pressure on the dam) without a permit to release water into the wetland upstream of the pond.



Town Administrator Valerie Capels told board members that a recent site visit with state officials yielded the information that one of the conditions for a dam of this type to exist is that there can be no standing water above the invert of the intake pipe or else water backs up.

Capels explained that state regulations would require that the exit culvert be built up or raised four feet in order for the current pond configuration to be rebuilt. She said that the town's engineer Sean Patenaude was asked about the cost of engineering an alternative design that would allow water levels in the pond to be at the base of the dam (on the downstream side) should the downstream beaver dams be restored.

Capels presented the board with sketches from Russ Bennett, adjoining landowner to the north, which show a spillway at the north end of the pond rather than an earthen berm dam. The drawings show the water cascading over a spillway and running upstream into a necklace of smaller ponds.


"We don't have design costs of an elevated spillway," Capels said. She read into the record a letter from Bennett urging the town to consider the long-term impacts of the project before making a decision based solely on finances.

"It seems to me that before we rule other options out, that we should get good pricing on them and we should open the discussion up to the public so they can weigh in on what they want in the near term and for our children and grandchildren and beyond. Let's not miss this opportunity to open a dialog with the town's folk about what they want for their future. These repairs are not going to be accomplished this fall so we might as well do a good job of talking about how we want to manage our piece of paradise," the letter said.



Board chair Charlie Hosford said that engineering the dam differently, so that water spills off the top of a spillway, would cost twice as much to engineer and three times as much to construct.

Board member Paul Hartshorn questioned how it could cost so much for engineering and said he felt the board needed to go to the public with this project.

"I don't think it's time to build a Cadillac when we can get by with a Ford. The economy is not strong here," Hartshorn said.


"I'll take the opposite side here and say that in tough economic times like this, we need to build something that will enhance our town and make people want to come here," said board member Bill Parker.

Board members discussed whether to ask Patenaude to continue working on engineering plans to replace the earthen berm dam as it was, or whether to have him create engineering for a spillway.


"I think we should go to Town Meeting with engineering for replacing what we had. I wouldn't recommend engineering a spillway," board member Roy Hadden said.

"So we come prepared to Town Meeting with prices for voters to bring the pond back, make it less or make it more?" Parker asked.

"That way, if people at Town Meeting decide they want a Cadillac, they can get it," he continued.

Hosford said that he and Capels had asked Patendaude for estimates on costs of raising the culvert up four feet, but had not yet received them.



While state officials have carefully watched the town's pond restoration efforts, and slapped a restraining order on the town before citing two individuals for unauthorized work in a state wetland, the state has also declared parts of the development that feeds runoff into the pond as "grandfathered" and exempt from the state's storm water jurisdiction.

That action allows a private landowner (The Big Picture) to comply with select board orders to restore the original drainage configuration of the movie theater parking lot, which was altered when the building was renovated several years ago. The alteration included changing the grade of the parking lot so that water, which used to drain into the wetlands (and ultimately, the Mad River) via a swale on the west side of the building, began draining directly into the pond.  The work that was done was done on town pond land without town permission and the select board has issued three letters requesting that the land be returned to its original elevations.


Kevin Burke, environmental analyst for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' storm water section, said that the lot where the movie theater sits is part of a subdivision that predates the state's 1987 storm water regulations and work done on that parcel only triggers state review if it impacts more than an acre. He issued a four-page written decision regarding state jurisdiction over the movie theater parking lot in February. From the state's point of view he said, the landowner can comply with the town's requirement that the land be restored to its original drainage configuration.