Waitsfield Board closes Dana Hill hearing

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The Valley Reporter File Photo. Dana Hill Road

The public hearing on whether to reclassify Dana Hill Road from a Class 4 road to a recreation trail was closed this week, but the select board will be taking public comment and accepting surveys on the topic through August 23.

At an August 13 hearing, the board heard more comments from road residents and business owners with concerns about downgrading the road.

Road resident Peter Laskowski asked the board why Dana Hill Road residents should be singled out from others in town and asked to contribute to the cost of maintaining that road. He said that the town already spends minimal money on Dana Hill Road in comparison to taxes that those property owners pay and said that other taxpayers in the town are not asked to personally contribute to the maintenance of their roads.

PLOWED AND MAINTAINED

“Does everyone in town want to kick in money, including those on Class 1, 2, 3 or 4 roads when their roads are plowed and maintained? Why would Class 4 be an exception?” Laskowski asked.

“Others have been doing it because we’re not required to maintain them other than bridges and culverts,” board chair Paul Hartshorn said.

“Our road requires less funding than almost any road in town and our portion of our taxes that we pay isn’t anywhere close to what we pay for other roads. I don’t see why we should be charged extra. You all have roads plowed all winter long that require a heck of a lot more spending than our road,” Laskowski responded.

NOT SINGLED OUT

Hartshorn said that Dana Hill taxpayers weren’t being singled out, but were being asked to do what other Class 4 road residents were doing – namely helping bring their roads up to the standard requirement for the general municipal road permit.

With the hearing closed, the board now has 60 days to make a decision although two board members, Kari Dolan and Darryl Forrest, would prefer to see the board make a decision sooner versus later. 

“Do we need a full two months to make that decision? We’ve learned quite a bit from the field visits and conversations thus far. The survey will provide useful information. It creates uncertainty if we wait the full two months. To provide greater clarity I’d encourage us to make a decision,” Dolan said.

LONG-TERM FIX

Both board members expressed opposition to reclassifying the road.

“I think we should look at this as an opportunity. This is a town road, we have a certain amount of responsibility and certain requirements under the municipal general road permit, especially around the gully areas. The total cost is understandable and reasonable – about $12,000 to $15,000 to fix those spots. It’s also a real opportunity to get grant funding. In other areas of town, we have had road residents contribute either money or labor or equipment to road work. All that has value. We should be coming together with a strategy on how to enhance this year, investing in a long-term fix versus a Band-Aid approach. This process is about whether we want to change the road classification but also looking at what is the future of the road and how do we maintain it,” Dolan said.

“You think we’re not going to change it to a trail?” Forrest asked.

“That’s my opinion. There are too many residents; the road is widely used for logging which is an important part of our economy. I’d like to keep it Class 4 road and ask the question of how are we going to come up with a maintenance plan that improves our flood resilience?” she responded.

Forrest suggested that the town’s lack of maintenance on the road for the last decade had effectively already downgraded it to a trail.

NEED TO IMPROVE IT

“Our road classification standards, adopted 30 years ago, are clear that Class 4B roads receive gravel, grading and ditching to facilitate summer use. From what I’m hearing we haven’t done a lot of that. I’m with Kari. I don’t see us changing it to a trail because that’s what it is now. I think we need to improve it. I think property values will be affected. We should better maintain that road. It’s heavily used for recreation and that’s a big part of The Valley. People come here for recreation; people live here for recreation. It’s a three-season road for the residents and it’s part of the business for True North, which is a pretty good business. We need that road for logging. Our job is to make situations better for our residents, not worse,” Forrest said.

Board member Jon Jamieson was not ready to comment or commit to a decision one way or another and board member Sal Spinosa said he needed more time to digest the issue.

True North Wilderness Therapy operates a wilderness therapy program in state forests and on private lands in the area. Business owner Madhuri Barefoot and her attorney were present to urge the board to make a decision sooner versus later and also to reiterate the importance of the road to the business as well as the permit that was received after nine years of litigation -- a permit the town signed off on. They indicated a willingness to work with the town to create shared road responsibilities.

“I think it’s important that we reach an understanding on expectations, regardless of redesignation. I don’t think we’re going to get this road to a condition where Gillespie, Hartigan, Suburban or Bournes is going to take a $150,000 truck up there,” Jamieson commented.

“If the town road gets into compliance with the general municipal road permit, that will get us to the place where we need in terms of passability,” Barefoot said.

The board will keep the Dana Hill Road item on its agenda for upcoming meetings as the 60-day period runs.