Winhall voters to decide on road repair bill

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WINHALL — Town meeting voters next March will decide whether to split the cost of repairs to a stretch of the Stratton Mountain Access Road with the Winhall-Stratton Fire District, which incurred a $21,000 bill for the emergency work this year.

The Winhall Select Board authorized the inclusion of a $10,500 line item in next year's proposed budget after an animated discussion at its Aug. 21 meeting, according to GNAT-TV footage.

The roadwork was performed in May by a contractor, Hunter Excavating, hired by the fire district, which already had retained the firm one month earlier to fix a broken water main that runs beneath the access road between Founders Hill and North Brookwood roads.

A sinkhole near the site of that April break developed around May 16, which the district believes stemmed, at least in part, from the ground thawing and settling after the previous month's work, a representative,

Margaret Dwyer, said at the August meeting.

After the district consulted town representatives, the contractor excavated a strip of the road and installed an underground, concrete bridge to help stabilize the road and a nearby, decades-old culvert that sits below it.

The fire district has paid the five-figure bill but is seeking at least some reimbursement from the town. In a letter, part of which select board chair William Schwartz read aloud during the August meeting, the district opined that "the conditions of the aging culvert resulted in settlement," a determination the town official questioned.

"The aging culvert was 5 feet below their broken line," Schwartz said.

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Schwartz initially balked at putting town funds toward the project. An access permit was required but not obtained for work in the public right-of-way, he said, and the project should have been competitively bid. Typically, when an emergency like the sinkhole crops up, the town addresses the situation temporarily with its own equipment and staff before determining whether it will be necessary to procure an outside vendor, according to the board chair.

It was another select board member, E. Stuart Coleman, who eventually suggested that the town split the $21,000 bill with the district, a proposal he characterized as an effort to advance the discussion. Schwartz resisted the idea — "I have no ability to vote for paying any of that bill," he said — until a district representative suggested including funds for the project in the town's next budget.

The board later voted unanimously to adopt that suggestion. Members said they would explain the rationale for the proposed line item to the public at town meeting.

Before the vote, fire district member Tom Snopek spoke of the need for future coordination between the two entities as the town eyes improvements related to the road. Winhall is in "the planning stages" of replacing culverts, select board member Julie Isaacs said.

Schwartz and Coleman suggested that the district explore relocating the water main from beneath the road itself to a roadside ditch, but Dwyer said it's already as far to the side of the road "as it can get."

There is overlap between the two governmental entities' jurisdictions, but they are not identical, according to Schwartz, who said the fire district's constituency includes a "limited number of people" in Winhall.

Attempts to reach Schwartz and Coleman on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Dwyer's email autoresponder indicated she was out of the office.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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