02/11/2010

By Lisa Loomis

After several meetings to discuss the issue and spending a $5,000 grant to research unidentified corridors in one area of town, the Waitsfield Select Board voted against adding any sections of Class IV roads to the town's highway map.

Waitsfield, along with other Vermont towns, has been up against February 10 and then July 15, 2010, deadlines to identify unidentified and unobservable corridors of road that the town would like to add to its town highway map.

ROADS AND TRAILS

Last year Waitsfield used grant money to hire a consultant to review roads (unidentifiable and unobservable corridors) on the northwestern end of town. The consultants identified 10 such corridors for review and the town held several public hearings to take testimony from landowners and others affected by the potential of adding these road and trail sections to the public highway map.

This week, at its February 8 hearing, the town held the final public meeting in advance of the state's February 10 deadline (necessary to meet the state's July 2010 deadline). At that hearing, the board heard from experts and landowners on three specific portions of roads/trails, all Class IV segments of road that run from the far northwesterly end of town over towards Moretown and Northfield.

CORRECT LOCATION

Attorney Chris Nordle, representing the Richards' family, who owns land in the area of road sections 5 and 6, testified that the sections of road that the town's consultant had identified as unobservable were in fact observable and were not mapped in the correct location on the town's maps.

Forester and surveyor Tom Sweet offered similar testimony about the road section 5, noting that section 5 was the "ancient road corridor that has the most impact." He said that the road was already being used for public recreation, but that the section being used for recreation was not on any town road, rather it was on Roland Richards' private land.

Nordle added that the map shows section 5 as observable but in the wrong place.

LAY CLAIM

The ancient roads statute allows towns to lay claim to unobservable sections of road and also unidentified sections of road if the legal claim to the roads and right of way can be shown. At this week's hearing, the board heard repeatedly that the three sections of road, 3, 4 and 5, were not properly shown on the town consultant's maps.

"And the ancient road map 6 shows approximately 1,000 feet from Roland Richards Jr.'s residence, a road extending easterly. If you attempted to lay out a road in the location shown on the ancient roads map, you'd find yourself going down a 60 percent slope and back up the other side. No one would lay a road out like that," Sweet said.

NOT OBSERVABLE

"So your testimony is that these roads are not marked accurately on the ancient roads map and that they are not unobservable?" asked select board chair Kate Williams.

"Yes, they should be removed (5 and 6) from the ancient roads map," Sweet said.

Nick Goldberg, whose property is in Waitsfield at the far northern end, accessible only via Moretown and potentially by ancient road segment 4, told the board that he failed to see the urgency to classify any road segments in time for the February and July 2010 deadlines.

"There are unidentifiable roads, unobservable roads and observed roads, as I understand the statutes. The state has given you until July to add the first two to your road maps and until 2015 to add any others. Those you don't classify under the first two, can still be added in the third category by 2015. There's no rush on this," Goldberg said.

LEGAL LEVEL

"It's my understanding that at a legal level, the town can't adopt a road unless it knows beyond a reasonable certainty where the roads are and how they were created. The section known as Road 4 on your map shows as a simple dogleg and your surveyor found 15 different turns on that road. I don't think it's acceptable, without knowing where the road goes, to try to add these roads to the map. It makes sense to let them become unidentified and give yourselves the time to research them and then put them on the maps.

Williams acknowledged that the board had several concerns when discussing putting these ancient roads on town road maps: first, having a level of confidence in the right of way and location of the road; secondly, considering the road's value as a connector; third, the public value for recreation; and, fourth, the value placed on the road by the public.

Select board member Paul Hartshorn moved that the board decline to add any of the ancient road sections to the town highway map and Williams seconded, noting, "We're not in a position to make those decisions."

The motion passed.

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