Selectboard Meeting Notes – Whetstone Woes, WRC Wows, and Playgrounds

Brattleboro Selectboard march 16 2021

Water leaks and collapsing walls were part of  the first post-Daylight Savings Time regular meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard.  The Department of Public Works reported on a couple of recent and ongoing emergency repairs downtown involving water.

The board heard an update on the work of the Windham Regional Commission, found out more about how poorly parking revenues are going this year, hired a company to do cemetery maintenance, and purchased some new playground equipment. And board members said goodbye to Brandie Starr and Jan Anderson, thanking them for their service.

Comments | 8

  • Preliminaries

    Pre-meeting banter about microphone levels, microphones, recording start times, and Ian being delayed.

    Chair Tim Wessel – no remarks, and leaving time for Peter…

    Town Manager Peter Elwell – we have two sudden infrastructure challenges. I do have a comment first – tonight is the end of an era. It is the final selectboard meeting for Jan Anderson. She will be with us through the end of this month, and has been preparing Jessica for the handoff. She has been the steady rock through much work we have done, and here she is the continuity over the last 11 years. There are department heads, but Jan has been here every other Tuesday for the last 11 years and then some. Thanks Jan! (board agrees…) Now, Steve Barrett and the wall and the water main break.

    Steve Barrett – it has been an interesting week. Problems finding us. A section of the wall near the whetstone path collapsed. So, DPW stabilized the area and shut the bridge. We notified construction, engineering and state stream people and we’re going to look at the situation. It was a state bike project in 2004 and served well but was constructed over the old infrastructure – the canal. Now we need to make this repair. We’re looking at a phased approach. Concern for spring runoff, very vulnerable to more wear or removal. I’m concerned about damage there. The first phase will be to protect what we have, and look at that strategy. Renaud and an engineer will help us. A design-build. Stabilize! Then we can determine what will be the final fix. We’ll get estimates. The initial work is the emergency stabilization. Tomorrow we will remove the pathway bridge. We’ll dismantle it and lift it with a crane. It’ll be in the Preston Lot or trucked away if possible for storage. Don’t want to lose our expensive bridge. Any questions about that? We have a leak on Main Street. We have a water leak on Bridge Street – RT 119 at the lower part of Main near Plaza Park. Lots of elements there. The old RR diner was there. There’s old water service to Plaza Park – that could be it. We shut off water to Barrows and it wasn’t that. We have leak detectors and have a good idea where it is… in the middle of the intersection. We’ll approach this tomorrow starting at 9pm. The sheriff will work with us through the night and hope to be done by 6 am. Hope we find the crack and can repair it, then put temporary cold mix over it for now. Pretty optimistic and think we know where the problem is. That’s my report. The water leak is a nuisance, more than a monetary issue. The wall is expensive. Water leak is an inconvenience.

    Liz McLoughlin – you turned off water to Whetstone?

    Steve – we turned it off and used listening devices, so we thought it wasn’t the line to the Whetstone. It was a process of elimination, turning things on and off and listening.

    Tim – you think it is at Malfunction Junction

    Steve – if you face Plaza Park, there are two columns, and it’s about 30 feet off of that, right in the roadway. It’ll be tough for truck traffic, so it is important to do at night. Lights will be on flash and the sheriff will help direct traffic.

    Tim – Ian has arrived…

    Daniel Quipp – I appreciate the work over the last few days and the upcoming work. Where does the money come from for this? Just curious.

    Peter Elwell – the lesser expense will be in the Utilities budget for maintenance. We do it every year. We’ll need to get a handle on the magnitude of the wall and bridge. There will be an emergency authorization – it will be a substantial un-budgeted expense.

    Tim – we next come to selectboard comments and committee reports.

    Daniel – I’ll double down on thanks to Town staff and I want to note that in addition to it being Jan’s last meeting it is also Brandie’s last regular meeting. Thanks for all the work you’ve done on the board. Enjoyed working with you.

    Tim – You beat me to it. My comment now is as a selectboard member. We got elected together, standing out in freezing temerparures. I’ll post it to my social media page. Brandie, you will be missed.

    Ian Goodnow – yes, Brandie and the last meeting of the board. It’s been my first year and am excited for the future.

    Daniel – has it only been a year?

    Liz – I want to thank Brandie for her service and for her Chairing…

    Brandie Starr – it’s my last meeting. A weird emotional week. I’m sure I’ll have smarter things to say at a later time. I already said it.. when you come to this board, there is privilege that comes with stepping on this board – networks of people, emails of the right people… use your privilege. Throw your weight around. It’s a brief time but you can make an incredible difference at the local level. I’ll miss it, but will find ways to fill my time.

    Tim – outstanding. Change is inevitable and good and we’ll all do well going forward. Public Participation…

    Gary Stroud – every time you mention a hand raise… mine i set at automatic. Zoom is great. Brandie – we all love you and will miss you. We’ll see you doing other things. I wish you the best. Also for Jan. she was the glue to all of us, holding it all together. The go to person for me. I hope to see her around, too. I have a question about the water main – would that interfere with the water up on Canal Street? No? OK.

    Elwell – just down the hill.

    Gary – for RTM – was it mentioned for CSRT for this Saturday – will we vote on it? When will that article be brought to the consideration of the people?

    Elwell – on March 2 – last meeting – there was an item to consider next steps and they approved we move forward with the body of work and come back in the summer and see progress we’re making so we can begin to find our way forward. Ongoing work in town, around town, and with other agencies. The only policy question presented that needed action by the board and related to RTM was the level of funding for police training. The board level funded training and didn’t increase it. The budget on Saturday has that in it, but that’s it. There may be more things as work goes on, for RTM and for the selectboard.

  • Recommendation for Appointment of Charles Keir III as Health Officer

    The board becomes Health Commissioners.

    Elwell – Len Howard is becoming the new Fire Chief and Chuck Keir becomes Assistant Chief. Part of our structure is to have the assistant fire chief act as Town’s Health Officer. They help with enforcement, and rental house inspection program. We need to go through a process with the state of Vermont. Lenny will resign the position, and the board will recommend Chuck Keir to be the Town Health Officer.

    Tim – congrats to Chuck…

    Chuck Keir is recommended!

    They stop being Health Commissioners.

  • Insertion Valve Installation – Bid Award

    The board struggles, but becomes Water & Sewer Commissioners.

    Dan Tyler – last fall during flushing we found an inoperable valve in a transmission main on the east end of Melrose Street at the bridge. Replacing it would be difficult. We propose to install an insertion valve on that portion. If there is a break, we can isolate the flow, and during flushing we re-route the water. Typically we’d cut out the old valve and replace it. It’s a 16″ and hard to isolate. It would interrupt services in that area and would be difficult. More water to deal with. The insertion valve – they install it without shutting the water off. The cut in and install the valve. It’s the best fix. We haven’t used this technology, we put it out to bid, both $26,500. One company was recommended by a local contractor and a pipe supplier, so we recommend hiring Underground Testing & Services, LLC, in the amount of $26,500.

    Tim – remarkable that they had the same bid.

    Ian Goodnow – the insertion valve – can we maintain and service it?

    Dan – once installed it’s like any other valve. There are several valves in our system and we don’t stock parts. The valve not working – having this in place means we could isolate a smaller piece of Main, and maybe we replace the other valve when we re-do the bridge, or we could eliminate it.

    Daniel – I hope you are getting enough sleep…


    They board stops being W&S Commissioners.

  • Financial Report – FY21 Through February

    Brandie – it’s like a Hitchcock film outside my window. Crows gathering.

    Elwell – the monthly finance report. After this I need to step away for a moment. Need to check on something. In the financial report there is nothing new here, but want to stress that in our new practice with heavy agendas and the consent agenda. It’s been on the consent agenda sinceNOV. The COVID impacts on parking revenues are significant. If we put the bridge in the parking lot during repairs… we aren’t seeing the demand for parking. Working at home, not going out. Any given day, most spaces in Preston are open. Same for most others. Some get some use. Back to the point – we have been fortunate that most COVID impact hasn’t impacted the budget, but the Parking Fund operates on its own revenues. Our expenses will exceed revenues and will have an operating deficit – might need a transfer to cover the loss at the end. We’re becoming concerned and we’re doing analysis and will say more next month. Just wanted to say we’ve seen this coming and the magnitude is a bit undefined, but the parking fund is a concern. Everything else is right on mark where you’d expect them to be.

    Liz – it is great that it is the only revenue municipal stream impacted by COVID – can we recoup costs from Federal funds?

    Elwell – we don’t know for sure, but some of it and perhaps a lot of it that will require municipalities demonstrate that it offsets lost revenue, just like businesses. Municipalities will be in that position for some of the funds coming. We can recapture the loss eventually I think, but it is why we have the 10% set aside for emergencies. In the short term we’ll look there. We might be able to backfill with federal money.

    Tim – looking at the decline in revenues – it could have been worse. We have a caller…

    Elwell – It is Jessica, your new board member…

  • Windham Regional Commission – (i) Brattleboro Commissioners’ Annual Report to Selectboard (ii) Appointment of Brattleboro’s Commissioners for 2021-2022

    Planning Director Sue Fillion and Planning Commissioner Tom Mosakowski

    Sue – We’re here to give you an annual report. We are the Commissioners for Brattleboro to the Windham Regional Commission. Time for re-appointments, so we give you a report. If you aren’t aware, WRC is the regional planning org for the region, to assist towns and work with them to address regional issues. Each town has two reps, and 10 citizen interest commissioners. Funding comes from contracts with the state, federal grants, and town assessments (5%). It is a strong committee structure. There are board meetings and committee meetings – community development, energy, transportation, etc.

    Tom – thanks for appointing us last year. I came to the position through the planning commission. There was a lot to learn, and educational for me the first year. In the last year I’ve turned a corner and know more and can start being effective. In committees we have presentations about hydro, forestry, habitats, broadband and discuss budgets. I’m on project review committee – we review applications that have potentially regional impact, and will will they conform. We reviewed Red Clover Commons Act 250 application, legislature bills to revise Act250, regional plan, letter of support for the solar site. I find it interesting, but it is a slow time for projects in the region.

    Tim – you seem to have hit your stride and are enjoying it.

    Tom – good to be able to do something…

    Liz – thanks for your time.

    Ian – yes, I can relate to the first year is a learning year. Do you intend to stay on that committee?

    Tom – yes. It’s very interesting. I was thinking of going another committee, but I became chair of the Planning Commission, so that will take up my free time?

    Ian – can you be on more than one?

    Tom – yes, they recommend to be on two. If you want me to be on one, please speak up.

    Liz – project review is the real meat and potatoes. Great committee.

    Sue – I’m on Planning Coordination and Brownfields committees. PC reviews Town Plans to conform with state statute so they can be approved by the WRC. Small but important. Brownfield is really important for Brattleboro. Started in 200 and brough over $5.4 million to the region, and more than half to Brattleboro because we’re the hub. Nine sites have received funding in Brattleboro – low interest loans or grants. Just want to touch on other programs – I also am familiar with other programs of WRC for the town. Their transportation planning program is a state contract and how we get our voice in transportation projects. Through that they will supplement traffic counting, pedestrian counts, bike counts in downtowns. WRC helped us work on crosswalks study for Traffic Safety Committee. They bring a lot transportation-wise.

    Daniel – if there’s a committee, speak up… where are you with the transportation committee?

    Tom – Not on it. If it comes to the full meeting, I could comment. It’s all at committee level.

    Sue – they reach out to town staff. For me, picking committees was around other obligations.

    Tom – I’ll keep it in mind when time becomes available. A few WRC pursuits at the regional level that impact locally. The hydro power relicensing – there are 5 facilities around us. The relicensing by the FERC – they do this every 30-50 years. Comments are taken on the application and recommendations can be made. The CT River Conservancy has been vocal on it, and WRC had a meeting with the Natural Resources Committee and we’ll write a joint letter with others nearby to highlight deficiencies. They want to improve fish passage, protect indigenous resources, improve habitat, preventing erosion, reducing sediment…. there is a lot the hydro places can do without impacting their power or operating. This is our chance for the next 30 years.

    Liz – One condition that people are placing on the permit is monitoring the flow, but if you don’t trigger the monitoring it will go on forever. You need to say what happens if a problem is found, and define the remedy. They can monitor you to death. Make sure action triggers are on the monitoring.

    Tom – I’ll see what I can do. Another big project is the regional plan update. It happens every 8 years. Our current one expires next year. So the plan is to do a minor plan update, then do a major update a bit later. Just updating to make the plan current and accurate for now. The major update will focus on “when growth comes, where will it go?” and climate and flood resilience, habitat protection, and compact settlement. Common themes and I think they are good ones. Another big topic is the regional broadband project. WRC was part of the team to do a feasibility study for the region. That resulted in the communications district becoming a CUD, with a business plan. I know Brattleboro has joined on to the CUD, but some of the stats – 97.2% have “broadband” so this benefits us least but having surrounding towns faster would be better.

    Liz – one reason – the places in Brattleboro that are underserved border the other towns, I think that was our point.

    Tim – it is important to not leave out the 3% underserved. There is tension between broadband everywhere and centralizing – it makes sprawl more easy as people expand to the wilderness.

    Liz – new federal money will include broadband money so it is important to be in the CUD to get the best broadband for our students.

    Ian – seems clear the WRC will benefit from COVID relief money. Has there been discussion of those funds?

    Sue – it is so new and guidance is coming out. There is a WRC meeting coming on the 30th. Staff are pretty up to date on that stuff. Forward looking.

    Liz – we don’t have to wait for the WRC. We’re our own actors and the VLCT and legislators will figure out how and when and where to get that money.

    Gary Stroud – Tom – broadband. For businesses. Is that a good incentive for new businesses? Zoom is here to stay. What are the benefits and pros and cons and can it be marketed?

    Tom – the majority or all of the places where commercial and industrial places already have broadband. Unless we’re talking home business, I think the majority already have it.

    Gary – officials mention broadband and old systems and that type of network improving connectivity?

    Tom – the rollout of fiber may answer more to your question about big businesses. The speeds in the CUD – I’m not sure if that is fiber speed or bare minimum.

    Gary – broadband helped places up north.

    Tom – the rollout is focusing on unserved first, then underserved. Upgrading speeds that already exist is that last priority.

    Daniel – some early conversation on this are coming back. The definition of broadband – 25 down and 3 up standard… that minimum doesn’t quite cut it. Is there going to be some HIGH speed connectivity to bring people here? Consolidated is going it – one company. The idea of growth and density and fiber to everyone, we could be encouraging development on the edges, but all of these things are interesting things to kick around and glad Tom and Sue represent us at the WRC.

    Ian – thanks so much for all your work and am excited to reappoint you.

    Tom – one final big project – the state level – the Climate Council has been formed, and Chris Company is appointed to it. The council’s main task is to meet the legally mandated reduction targets. They are mandated to think about smart growth, carbon sequestration, limiting chemicals, developing resilience and mitigation… they have a defined framework and a schedule. Draft plan by this coming October for comment.

    Liz – that’s important. Is Chris reaching out to the Town of Brattleboro for input?

    Tom – still developing subcommittees – haven’t started the work yet. I’ll remind him, of course.

    Sue – Chris has spoken to Stephen Dotson about joining a committee… WRC has given a lot of other support to us in Brattleboro.

    Brandie – won’t be using my camera but I’m still here…

    Sue and Tom re-appointed!

  • Cemetery Maintenance – Annual Bid Award

    Tim – we all have appointments at the cemetery eventually…

    Carol Lolatte – I don’t have that crystal ball. We got two bids, but one didn’t meet the specs. Cemetery maintenance falls over two budget year. We have a balance of $14k and then $24k next year. The second bid was from Independent Landscape & Property Management of Newfane in the amount of $15,800. Did the work last year. Saves $1200 over last year, too.

    bid awarded!

  • Playground Upgrades – Authorization to Purchase Equipment for Pine Street Park & South Main Street Park

    Tim – info on playground upgrades…

    Carol – we received a donation from Withington Fund of $74,700 to upgrade playgrounds at South Main and Pine Street parks. We got community involvement and feedback via survey. Got 30 responses. We got the type of equipment people wanted to see – two exciting plans for the parks. A bit the same. The equipment at Pine St will have Spider Mountain, a 6ft double velocity slide and 4 swings, and swing mats to holes won’t develop. Also picnic tables. $33,550. At South Main it will be similar, at $21,350. We’ll have a balance to work with for installation and site work. Can do the work in-house. New England Recreation Group is working with us, and we’re getting good regional bids.

    Tim – double velocity means two choices, not twice as fast…

    Ian – thanks for the presentation. Just want to commend you to looking for community input on this. I don’t think intimate is the right word, but playgrounds are very personal. I can still remember the playground I was taken to as a kid. You asked the community – I was really galled to see that. We should continue to try to utilize that when things impact people in a real way. Was the survey effective?

    Carol – yes, we even got right down to colors. I want to thank the planning dept who helped us out with this.

    Daniel -I was also really happy with the outreach – what’s a spider mountain, and what were the themes?

    Carol – Spider Mountain is a climbing boulder, plus roping like a spiderweb (like West River Park).

    Daniel – not a mountain full of spiders. What kind of outreach – open-ended or multiple choices?

    Carol – I sent the web site to them – they asked for climbing, swings, slides, colors – a bit of both.

    Daniel – I hope this outreach continues with similar projects.

    Liz – this sounds great and the survey was a perfect answer to COVID – you would have had a meeting – and you got the funding, and it all sounds wonderful.

    Brandie – Also have praise! Very excited by it.

    Playground equipment for South Main Street Park in the amount of $33,550 and for Pine Street Park in the amount of $21,350 approved!

  • Remaining items

    The board assigns motions and articles at RTM, they schedule an organizational meeting for the new board on Monday March 22, 2021, and appoint two planning commission members.

    So, that’s it for me… : )

    Reminder – I’m not writing up RTM this Saturday. That means YOU can write it up, alone or with friends. Or take notes, or whatever. Will any reps report on the day? We hope so…

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