On July 23, the Waitsfield Select Board held a public hearing to consider its motion to declassify the Class 4 portion of Dana Hill Road (most of the road) and turn this into a trail.
The purported reason for this proposed declassification was initially articulated by select board chair Paul Hartshorn, who said it would cost “a million dollars” to bring the road up to the new standards for Class 4 roads. However, a simple site visit with some road experts indicated that the cost of addressing some parts of the road (that have worsened due to neglect) might amount to about $10,000, and that grant money could cover 80 percent of these costs.
In the public hearing on July 23, select board member Sal Spinosa claimed that the public is concerned about “all the money” being spent on Dana Hill Road. However, as residents of Dana Hill, we have observed that very little money has been spent by the town on our road in the past 10 years. In fact, I hereby call on the select board to document how much has been spent on the Class 4 portion of Dana Hill Road each year for the past 20 years. I believe that the record will show that in the early 2000s the town at least bothered to show up one day or two per year for some grading and occasional culvert replacement. In recent years, the town has done little more than provide a few loads of gravel for the residents to spread on their own.
Select board member Jon Jamieson has his own concerns. He doesn’t want the town to face potential liability for Dana Hill Road as a Class 4 town road. He enjoys biking on our road and loves its “character.” He does not see why Dana Hill residents and business owners should expect to retain the access provided by a town road. And he suggests that the impact on property values of turning the road into a trail would be negligible. I wonder how he would feel if the access to his own home got downgraded to a trail.
Select board member Darryl Forrest did not make any comment in this latest public hearing, so there is no way to judge his position.
Select board member Kari Dolan seemed to be the most articulate, best informed and most positive member of the team. She truly focused on a compromise solution, both low cost and good for the environment, the residents and the public. She identified specific grant opportunities that could improve the road while minimizing the cost to the town.
We are not asking for a big investment. We just want to address a couple of spots that are gullying and to return to the one-day-a-year maintenance that we once enjoyed. If the road is allowed to deteriorate, it will end up costing all taxpayers more. Left unchecked, water running down the road hurts the Class 3 section at the bottom of the hill, and debris spreads out onto Route 17 and into the stream below.
In the initial public hearing, Sal Spinosa asked Dana Hill landowners to justify their existence, asking how many days a year we lived there. He seemed to imply that if we live there part time, we don’t count. In our defense, the taxpayers of Dana Hill Road have made great contributions to our community. We have served state and local government in various capacities, including town constable, zoning administrator, lister, zoning board member, deputy sheriff and state representative. We have participated as volunteers in local organizations such as the Mad River Valley Ambulance Service and on the boards of the Mad River Path, the Vermont Revolving Loan Fund and Friends of the Mad River, just to name a few. A single Dana Hill business is one of the biggest employers in town. One family farm conducts instructional seminars. One riding stable has taught generations of children. We have allowed our private property to be used for public biking trails. We help anyone who gets stuck on our road. In sum, we do not deserve to be abandoned and, ultimately, it will cost less to maintain the road than to abandon it.
Laskowski lives in Waitsfield.