On March 1, the Shaftsbury Select Board will be asking the voters a simple and direct question: Shall the Town locate the new Highway Department garage on Town owned property adjacent to the closed landfill on North Road?
The Select Board believes strongly and unanimously that the answer to that question is "YES".
But as we moved during this budget and election cycle to make that happen, we heard significant rumblings. (Make no mistake, a unanimous board does not change course based on regular, run-of-the-mill rumblings. They have to be the significant kind.) The Select Board decided we need to hear directly from the voters on this. We've been trying to build a garage since 2009. It's time we got it done.
A little background: In 2009 the Select Board commissioned a study to look at renovations to Cole Hall. The engineers immediately noticed that we had a bigger problem across the parking lot — a Highway Department garage nearing end of life. The focus shifted, and after years of study and engineering, a $1.5 million bond proposal was put before the voters to build a Highway Department complex, garage building, salt shed, pole barn, on Industrial Zone land the Town already owns adjacent to the closed landfill on North Road. That $1.5 million proposal was soundly defeated. That was March of 2013. The Select Board formed a citizen committee to advise them how to proceed.
In the meantime, the Town has been putting $75,000/year into a Garage Reserve Fund; $75,000 being equal to the yearly cost of the original $1.5 million bond proposal. We have also been consolidating our land holdings at the landfill. Last year, one of two remaining residences on our Industrial Zone land was offered for sale, and with voter approval, we bought it. Just a few weeks ago, the second residence became available and we will be asking voters to approve that purchase on March 1. Whether or not we build the garage there, this purchase makes sense. But adding both properties to our holdings at the landfill opens up the possibility of placing the garage building right on North Road, rather than down the hill toward the back of our 20 acre property. This was a sufficiently intriguing possibility that the Select Board decided to delay another garage vote until November while we seek voter approval for the purchase of the second residence and evaluate the second site. Again, we want this property whether we put the garage there or not. But on first look, the site by the road has attractions: we don't have to build a thousand foot downhill road to access it, and the garage would be visible from the road, a plus for security.
But, we have been hearing from citizens who believe we should stay away from the landfill entirely. "There are problems with the water." "We don't want to build a million dollar building we can't see." "We could damage the landfill cap during construction." "We want this building to last 70 years and we don't know what kind of problems will arise from an unlined landfill."
The Select Board takes these concerns seriously, which is why we are pausing to take the pulse of the people. These concerns represent risks. But all risks are not created equal. Is that risk likely to manifest as a problem? How big a problem would that be? Can we work around that problem? The answers to these questions weigh on the decision of where to put a garage.
Decisions like where to put a Town garage are often nuanced; there is no perfect solution. You have to gather all the input you can, weigh the pros and cons, make a decision and get it done.
If you hold out for the perfect solution, you may never get it; and you may fail to act on a solution that really is good enough.
The advantages of either of the landfill sites are significant:
• We own the land so the cost will be less.
• The land is zoned Industrial. Highway Dept. operations in our Village Center would be reason enough to move the garage, even if it weren't antiquated. Following our own Town Plan and zoning bylaws is the right way to do this.
• The water problems are solvable. The water is not "toxic". The State reports, based on two decades of monitoring, that the water situation is "stable" while "showing a generalized long-term improvement". The monitoring wells around the landfill sometimes show levels of iron and manganese above Vermont's very strict standards; and that is likely naturally occurring from the bedrock. Other times, the test results do meet Vermont's very strict standards. For at least the last six years, every test has met the slightly less strict Federal drinking water standards. Worst case scenario if all this changes: the road crew has to drink bottled water. There is a near zero probability that the water would ever be too toxic to wash salt off trucks and flush toilets.
The town has for decades been purchasing buffer land around the landfill, to consolidate our Industrial Zone and to get residential water use away from the landfill. Residential water use is a different animal from industrial water use. Buying up residential land around the landfill is necessary and proper on its own. Finding a use for that land that serves the Town and saves money is a bonus.