Selectboard Meeting Notes – The Dam Plan

Brattleboro selecboard july 6

The first “hybrid” meeting using a combination of in-person and zoom participants had no real technical issues to speak of, but many interesting details to discern.

Big news was the agreement being worked out with owners of the nearby Connecticut River dams. They will be changing their operations to create a more natural water flow, which is good news for the river banks, all sorts of critters, recreation, and even the company’s plans for the future.

New land use amendments were approved, as was a mural project. The board also heard of two new places in town to get drinks more easily – Retreat Farm and craft experiment at the River Garden.

Comments | 12

  • Preliminaries

    It’s the first back-to-the-selectboard-room meeting for the board after many months of Zoom-only meetings. Tonight is the first experiment in a hybrid in-person/Zoom affair. I’m trying to watch on ye olde BCTV stream on YouTube. Everyone is 5 minutes late.

    Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin welcomes everyone back to the selectboard meeting room. I want to inform the public about a BDCC effort for an Ethiopian refugee resettlement program, to try to make them welcome in the area and have a welcoming inclusive community for the refugees. It’ll be on our agenda August 3rd.

    Town Manager Elwell – Groundworks has been doing work. July 1 hotel support for homelessness ended. There have been some changes about timing and details but the community response is that Groundworks is trying to add new staff to open their new place as a shelter. It was to be a winter shelter, but it can serve year round if there is money and staffing. It’s been hard hiring new people, to make sure there enough trained people to make it an overnight shelter. In the mean time it serves as a drop-in center… larger, air conditioning, showers, food… and we hope there will be new staff to make it for overnights. Groundworks is providing services at hotels and helping them to transition out of hotels. The Town will continue to be supportive in these efforts. It should be a matter of weeks. On a happier note, Amtrak service is coming back to Brattleboro. Amtrak wants to celebrate all over Vermont, and there is local organizing going on. Service resumes July 19, and there will be a celebration at the station with ice cream and lemonade, with short speeches. People can take a shuttle from Brattleboro to sign up to take a bus to Bellows Falls, get on the train, and get to Brattleboro in time for the celebration… about 12:45pm.

    Daniel – It’s funny to look down the table instead of staring at a screen. I didn’t know if anyone would come. And, the newspaper headline today about the downtown design planning process. The plans/studies… on the town website, and go to Planning and scroll down you’ll het to the design plan story map. It was really great and easy to use to get findings and reflections. Go and have a look. We’ll here more about it here.

    Liz – yes.

    Ian Goodnow – this is my first in-person meeting and it feels so good to be here. Thanks to staff for helping with zoom.

    Tim Wessel – if you see a ridiculous amount of smiles, we’re giddy. 2 out of 5 have never been here before. Great to see newspapers with us tonight, and Patrick doing support.

    Jessica Gelter – I have nothing.

    Public participation…

    Cargill – the rotary out front. I drive through a lot. The little island out there has bushes and people can’t see cars going and going. Flowers would be fine, but the bushes… it’s dangerous. An accident waiting to happen.

    Kurt Daims – I’m tickled pink to be here and see people live. It’s delightful to criticize and complain in person. The ARPA funds should be either given directly to the people to people below median income or they should be distributed.. they need to go in a separate fund, or to provide the people to receive the money as vouchers so they can prepare their own people’s budget and decide how money gets allocated. The other thing is about the climate emergency declaration you implemented – one provision in the resolution was that the people in the town should use renewable energy. It’s a significant vote by RTM and you should make sure, even though it is late, you should publicize it on the website.

    Not a resident – Joseph Runge – I have a question, about immigration into Brattleboro and refugees – what country, how many, over what time period?

    Liz – I don’t have those answers. Maybe wait until Aug 3. We’ll have people from BDCC and the Ethiopian group to answer questions.

    Elwell – a presentation and discussion on Aug 3rd.

    Ann Wright – happy to be back. I want to say how happy I was to hear of the refugee program. It’s a great opportunity that will help us. However I can be of service to help, and in outlying communities. I’m so excited by this. Thanks to the board for offering its support.

    Audrey Garfield – it’s been many years. I want to echo what Anne said. I’m excited for the prospect. Refugee is a loaded term. They really add to the community – skilled labor, more likely to start a business, and younger demographic. If I have concerns, it is for their well-being. I hope we will choose inclusion not exclusion.

    Gary Stroud – I want to ask Daniel or Peter… with the money for people leaving hotels… how much are they getting to relocate to new housing. Vt will start a new electric… I want to get an idea of what.

    Daniel – You are referring to a number of state programs to get people into housing. There is a large amount of money to help with moving costs and down payments – rapid resolution – it’s been going over a year and has been extended. It’s a mixed bag – if housing isn’t available… There is the VT State Housing authority has Money To Move and they have lots of money, good program, hard to get people int o housing. The Motel program – people are being given serious dollars if they are in the hotel program and can use the money to house themselves – to go to a relative, pay for their own hotel… the most expensive way to go, – there is money available for overdue rent or bills – call SEVCA. Anyone struggling with housing is probably connected with an agency – Groundworks or SEVCA. Lots of support out there. It’s a challenging situation.

    Gary – the drop in shelter opened?

    Elwell – the drop in center is open and they are working to make it an overnight shelter.

    Daniel – 211 is a phone number that will always point you in the right direction.

    Gary – the application takes a half an hour to figure out – there are hurdles. maybe there are people to help them.

    Daniel – come to me at SEVCA, we have staff, other agencies are working on this. Or call 211. Lots of help out there.

    – I’m a Vietnam vet and couldn’t get hired after the war. We all know how we were treated. I take a tough love situation with homelessness. I’ve worked my derriere off. I’ve seen some homeless and they say they are vets but don’t know about discharge papers. They don’t want to work… they say they don’t have an ID.

  • Consent Agenda

    A. American Recovery Plan Act – Designation of Authorized Representative

    B. Replacement Pickup Truck for Fire Department– Purchase Using State Bid Award

    C. Replacement Truck for Public Works’ Highway Division – Purchase Using State Bid

    D. Elliot Street Bridge Repair – Bid Award

    E. Gibson Aiken Center Fire Alarm – Bid Award

    F. Swimming Pool Repairs at Living Memorial Park – Bid Award

    G. Chip Seal Pavement Improvements on Summit Circle – Bid Award

    H. Crack Seal Pavement Improvements at Various Locations – Bid Award

    I. Town Highway Class 2 Roadway Program Grant for South Main Street Paving Project – Accept and appropriate


  • Liquor Commissioners

    First Class Liquor License and Outside Consumption Permit – Retreat Farm LTD

    Elwell – there are two licenses tonight. The first is Retreat Farm. They have had special event permits. This is institutionalize it to make it more streamlined for them. For now, the limitation will be for outdoor activities with a clear area for consumption.

    Lindsey Fahey, Retreat Farm’s Managing Director of Impact and Community – our goal with the license is to better serve visitors to the farm with a better experience and more streamlined. We’ll have better control of inventory and better procedures in place. A good platform as we make a community gathering space and conference center to attract more visitors to the community. We have food trucks on Thursdays and we have other arts events. We have special event permits for those events, but also want the license to have more flexibility in planning of events and meet needs of others who want to host events at the farm.

    Tim – the north barn – when will it be completed?

    Lindsey – we have applications in for grants – hope to start this year or next year. About halfway there.


    First Class Liquor License, Outside Consumption Permit, and Entertainment License – River Garden Marketplace LLC

    Elwell – also a location where there has been alcohol served for special events. The new owners are asking for a liquor license for purposes of new operations on an ongoing basis. We have reps here. As with the prior, staff has done full review.

    Timothy Brady – we basically think – we were looking for space for larger events. Whetstone is hard for bridal showers or corporate events, and having seen the River Garden for sale… we thought we’d help it reach its destiny. Our plan is to create a craft marketplace – artisans, makers, Vermont and VT-adjacent vendors, with a craft beer bar, a craft kitchen with and incubator space for chefs who want experience, and an entertainment space. Comedians, live music, and finally, meeting space. The lower level will be function space, easy to cater. That’s our vision. We anticipate a dozen local artisans at any given time. Open by labor day.

    Liz – great to hear it described as “destiny”

    Ian – will it have regular hours every day?

    Timothy – everyday except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. WE hope the combination with the beer bar paying the bills, plus a col environment at the same time.

    Tim – I heard rumors of this happening and think it is a great opportunity for the town – and for this license, there is the argument that the Whetstone has been responsible. I’m excited for the opportunity.


  • Water & Sewer Commissioners

    Water Treatment Facility Project Financing – Additional Authorized Representative

    Elwell – In the memo, currently there are two employees as designated authorized reps for the financing paperwork – me and Steve Barrett – the direct oversight of the work will be done by Dan Tyler. So, for more efficient management, we ask he also be designated. It was suggested to us by the state. Easier for everyone in involved.

    Liz – sounds great.

    Dan Tyler approved!

    2 Replacement Vehicles for Public Works’ Utilities Division – Purchase Using State Bid

    Elwell – Dan Tyler, whom you’ve just empowered. He’s going to make history, appearing on the screen, fulfilling our mission of a hybrid meeting.

    Dan – we are looking to purchase two utility vehicles. These will be through the state bid system. First is a replacement full size pickup with a smaller hybrid. Toyota Rav4 Hybrid from Alderman’s Toyota of Rutland, Vermont, for a total amount of $18,731. $36k was budgeted. The other is a pickup for day to say operations and snow removal. We’ll replace with a similar vehicle, trading a 2012 Chevy pickup for the maintenance department, replaced with a 2022 Ram 2500 from Central Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Raynham, Massachusetts, for a total of $41,500.

    Daniel – glad Dan made history….


  • Proposed Amendments to Land Use Regulations – Second Public Hearing / Adoption

    Elwell – I want to take advantage to say out loud.. as Sue comes forward to present, we made a judgement for this hybrid meeting, when there looks like something simple and routine it would have been on the consent agenda, it can be on Zoom…our intent is for more complex items, staff will be here in person. We’ll see how it goes, can do it differently if you want.

    Daniel – staff would sit for hours. It’s a good way to treat the town staff. Aspart from Sue.

    Liz – Planning Director Sue Fillion… our second public hearing.

    Sue – it’s like riding a bike. I’m nervous. This is the second public hearing for a slate of amendments. We’re hoping you will take a vote on whether to adopt these. Briefly, they are a set of zoning amendments worked on since 2017, covering a couple different areas – sign regulations, residential neighborhood zoning changes made permanent, some minor amendments in design guidelines to make things easier, some single room occupancy changes, and a couple of areas to tighten – non-conforming signs, parking lot reconstruction permits required, and stormwater regulations. Happy to answer questions.

    Jessica – so excited that this work got to this point. I’m curious… this opens up new opportunities. Is there a plan or a communications mechanism so it can be shared with the public – how this is an opportunity.

    Sue – we’ve already doing this – we have a quarterly newsletter about Planning, we can put out a press release, and there is landlord summit coming up, and told others – maybe 80 different landlords. And staff and department have conversations with applicants.

    Tim – I expected more feedback from constituents. I think this has been reviewed well.

    Ian – is the powerpoint presentation on the website?

    Sue – no, but I can put it up.

    Liz – I’m very much in favor of this set of changes… relaxing what needs to be relaxed and strengthening what needs to be strengthened. This should create more housing units, which is good for the town.

    Public hearing closed.

    Land Use regs approved!

    Liz – anything about the downtown plan?

    Sue – a week ago we released the downtown plan, which happened in 2019 and then we reviewed it. There are a lot of suggestions and actions in the plan, so we’re interested in public feedback to prioritize. Look for the story map.

  • Proposed Mural in the High-Grove Parking Lot

    Elwell – the proposal has been reviewed by town staff and the town arts fund. It is meant to be public art to last, and a project with public participation.

    Nina Nabizadeh (and Emily Tatro) – we want to know what people of Brattleboro think makes it a special place. I may need scaffolding and am wondering if I should ask for permission.

    Elwell – yes on scaffolding, it can be a condition of approval.

    Daniel – you got a grant to make this happen – is there enough funding for scaffolding?

    Nina – yes – it seems to make sense to use some for that.

    Daniel – this is a project that involves members of the public? How will you do outreach, and what supervision…

    Nina – putting up flyers, social media, and word of mouth. I’ve learned interesting things about this town I didn’t know.

    Daniel – the arts council of windham county – can they help connect you to more people – what if the people who make this mural- how do you get the right people for this job?

    Nina – I’m trying to think of it like paint by numbers. There will be plenty to do.

    Daniel – people will be filling in the spaces?

    Nina – we are incorporating their ideas.

    Ian – I walked by this wall all the time so I’m excited. When will you be out and when people can join you?

    Nina – every weekday from 2-6pm.

    Liz – a way to contact you?

    Nina – yes, on the flyers… one at Coop, at Library.. trying to find places.

    Jessica – super excited… a question… we don’t have a town arts committee. You are getting a lot of input about the subject matter and content. I saw the two sketches. When you do a community art project, how easy was it to put a sketch together, and how accurate is it?

    Nina – we did a painting… the sketch is close. What drives it is the question about what makes Brattleboro special – Wantastiquet, the river, animals, plants. As Brattleboro changes I thin about mural function, and it is about preserving something about a special place and this is a snapshot of it.

    Liz – and the Windham Arts Council is helpful

    Nina – yes – great grant.

    Ian – how did you learn about it?

    Nina – a friend. I feel lucky to live in a town that supports arts.

    Tim – the wall was part of a Grand Union – that’s why it has the bump outs…

    approved! with Town approval required for scaffolding

  • Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon Dam Relicensing

    Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon Dam Relicensing

    Kathy Urffer from the Connecticut River Conservancy – Lovely seeing you all, and it is a little nerve-racking talking to a room of people. I’ve been reaching out to all towns along the river for the last 6 months to update the towns on relicensing… I’ll take about 25 minutes. Then questions. I have powerpoint slides. I’m the river steward. We’ve been working on this relicensing for more that 10 years. Our work is focused around dams. We do some dam removals, and hydro electric relicensing – they obstruct waterways, warm waterways, upset migratory fish passage, drops sediments… they have ecological impacts. They hydro projects in the country are licensed by FERC for 30-50 years. Last time was 1979 when I was 11. In 1986 it was changed to require FERC to give equal time for protections and preservations, – there is abroad number of issues that can come up and be required to be considered. Some other things that come up are from federal agencies – the Clean Water Act gives states some say in these things, Endangered Species, Historic Preservation, Recreation… many offices involved. In VT, there are 5 dams for relicensing. Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon are owned by Great River Hydro. There are also two dams in Massachuesetts – owned by Firstlight. ArcLight is an assets equity firm… they hold these projects and some on the Deerfield River. The bottom line to communicate is there is a basic question about how much profit coming from the river leaves out community.

    Over the last 40 years, dams have been peaking projects – water flows, then is stopped and held for most of the day, then around 4 pm, they start to generate at a rapid rate and it drains. They would generate from 4-10 at night. maybe in the middle of the day in peaks. This chart is the surface water elevation at Bellows Falls. You’ll see the river level drop at night, then fills up overnight. This daily fluctuation has been increasing erosion.. some areas worse than others.

    Liz – the fluctuations that create erosion – they create the electricity as well?

    Kathy – yes. (slides are jammed up…) The processes is supposed to take 5 years and it started in 20212. This was a large one, so stakeholders scoped studies. They did 33 different studies – dragonflies, recreation, flow considerations, and so on. Several delays. VY closing created some delay studies for fish studies. Hot water changed. Revised applications were filed, and stakeholders had discussions over the last year. We came to some agreement about how they could change operations to be better for the river. WE came away with a win-win situation. It will look very different for the next 40 years.

    This slide as modeled operations at Wilder Dam in 2003-2011 – about 800cfs, zooming to 10k, then back down. It shows how the river is flowing. Large storms cause spilling over the dam. If we took the dams out, the graph would look different – you can see storms, but it goes up and down more slowly – instead of daily storms. This isn’t realistic, so we looked for middle ground. The middle ground might look like this next slide- inflow equals outflow. It gets passed through in real time and isn’t held back… it mimics a natural cycle, and is better for species in the river. Under the new license we came to agreement on how to constrain operations – they can respond to emergencies at peaks, but base operations would be inflow would haul outflow – peaking to caseload. The new target is a 1 foot peak, rather than 3 feet. We agreed upon a certain number of hours each month to flex. Like a bank account. They can plan to generate those hours whenever they want, for them and the grid. April to June is migratory season, so there are only 10 hours in those months, then it goes back up slowly. There are other constraints – ramping – they will step it up and down rather than go full force. What this means – the next slide shows the top two lines – surface elevations under the new changes, the line before is what it looked like in 2009. The lines on the bottom – the red line is what it looked like under peaking in February 2009, there is a green dotted line and purple line. Green is inflow equals outflow. The purple line is what they will be releasing under the new operations. Much of the time they follow the natural course, then it comes back quick after a peak. They modeled four season for us in different years. There will be ore water in the river, so less time when it is dropping. Some river critters… endangered beetles, freshwater mussels (8 endangered), a special toad at Vernon Dam, dragonflies..

    We think this is great. It will benefit the ecosystem. It maintains the hydro company’s access to markets, and their niche. A Win-win. We talked about the operational scenario, and we waited for their final application about dam mitigation. They must mitigate for impacts. No conversations about recreation, erosion, native cultural resources… we would like to see more. They are relying on this operational change as their mitigation, and we think they need to be putting in more to support the river. So we did surveys with the Appalachian Mountain Club to see what towns want to see… to possibly mitigate for recreation. It’s 100 miles of river and 30 towns. No narrative was provided for recreation. The cost proposal is about $58k a year. The revenue they expect is $33 million per year… to provide some scale.

    Migratory fish passage is another issue. Fish ladders are from 1979. This is our opportunity to make upgrades. the fisheries and wildlife people are discussing how to improve them for migratory species. Each travels in a different way. Lamprey, eels, shad…

    Erosion feels like it has been lessened with the new operation. At the northern end of Wilder, there are three other projects north of there that are peaking and will be for another decade or more. There will be an influx that may cause issues at the north end, and the company should monitor, and protect. We have a huge river system that will change under this, and a great opportunity to monitor. If you’ve been to the West River to swim, it is muddy and sandy by the Marina – as water hits that, it drops sediment… because the river isn’t moving. As it started to move, that sediment may move and we may have a different habitat. It will be a fascinating change. The company should support assessing these changes.

    Liz – has the idea of dredging been proposed?

    Kathy – no. Each tributary is like this. My hope is we’ll see the shift and see more appropriate habitat for species coming up the river. I’m reaching out to all towns because we are about to have a public comment period on the application. At some point FERC will say it is time to comment, and that will be the time to speak up for the next 40 year period. What would assist your town? We want to get towns ready to comment. Might open for comments in the next few months. We want to make this easily for towns – how to comment, a template, and a summary of our concerns. We’ve been doing webinars on topics related to this. A heavy education phase, and request that communities engage so we serve the best interests of the local economy. I work in both states, and see the seats of power and population – they are on the other sides of the state. There is a huge opportunity for the river to be an recreational economic engine and the company should invest in that. Any questions?

    Liz – can you bear with us while we do our 8 pm break? Ok. Back at 8:15pm.

  • River Dams - Q&A

    Tim – what about the budge moving?

    Kathy – Brattleboro riverfront assets… the rec areas around the new bridge should be supported. Over the past decade there is a paddlers trail the length of the Connecticut River, with primitive campsites. People can come up, paddle, camp, etc. Brattleboro could be one of those destinations. They can pull up, have a beer and sleep at the Latchis then keep paddling. So redevelopment of the island the company could reinvest and help the town.

    Ian – Is the transition from peaking to caseload a novel concept?

    Kathy – I’m focused on this area, but there is new wind and solar and battery storage. The way we produce electricity is changing rapidly. And we have more ecological knowledge. It’s a combination of those things, and it comes down to the state 401 process, the state has to meet water quality standards. FERC is the federal comment, then there will be comments in each state for their permits.

    bctv pause

    Ian – any work being done to make it so these things can change more rapidly?

    Kathy – it’s about return on investment for the dams. We questioned the length of time. It would take an Act of Congress. It’s difficult. The way the regulatory structure is set up, once the license is laid out, it is very hard to revisit it. Maybe for migratory species. You get a once in a leftism bite at the apple.

    Liz – I want to salute you for this achievement, and to keep pressing for concessions. It’s great. I’m sure the Town swill want to comment, so I invite you to come back when the time comes. A couple of questions – the monitors should have a trigger for action if something is found. I assume the species habitats have other orgs helping. This is a once in a lifetime chance to make i great.

    Kathy – there we many stakeholders involved. I can’t take credit. I was among many peers.

    Liz – really great that you were in the room where it happens. Thank you very much.

  • FY22 Property Tax Rates

    Elwell – a memo from Patrick with late breaking news – shows how tax rates are calculated and ho it impacts property owners. We were unable to present it because the state of VT has not provided the info for the education portion. It will becoming the week of the 12th, so we’ll advise you when we get the information. No decision for the board to make, but must approve the calculations for the town’s budget. That will be provided when we can provide it. A special selectboard meeting so you can take that action and we can print bills and send them. We’re losing a week now, and due dates are coming up. If this comes early enough, no changes are needed. Stay tuned.

  • Selectboard’s Summer Meeting Schedule

    Elwell – we’ve coordinated with the board to get to this… no July 20 meeting. Quite common to cancel it. This year we can cancel it. A regular Aug 3rd meeting, and in August we’ll cancel the 17th, but an Aug 31 special meeting about community safety to present progress.

  • Selectboard’s Goals for 2020-2021 – Review of Status

    Elwell – each spring you adopt goals, then in July, Oct, and Jan we review progress. This is the July review. I won’t go item by item. It’s in the meeting materials. What I would say is the goal setting process achieves its purpose – it starts with the most important items, but overall this exercise keeps us focused on the things of most significance. Some are staff actions, and others are policy decisions to be made by the board. This reflects, overall, quite a lot of progress for our first quarter. Progress on almost every item. As a check-in, it shows significant accomplishment.

    Liz – rather than getting into the details, the roster as a whole…

    Daniel – in public participation, Mr Daims made a comment about using ARPA funds. Daims’ comment was informed by a certain dollar amount, but we don’t know, but he mentioned that the funding should be given to people as a stimulus payment. Best guess was $3million… $250 per person if we divide among 12,000. That’s not a wise choice when we’ve already had three stimulus payments.

    Liz – interesting. I think that basic civics tells us that money to a town is for purposes that are collectively decided. If the intent of ARPA rules are that, that’s how we should spend the money. Basic civics should prevail.

    Daniel – the rules are still in flux.

    Elwell – we would have made more progress on this item because the rules aren’t available – some draft info is available. The US Treasury will provide rules. Must be spent by end of 2024. Good reason to be patient. There is a complication for VT and other states – there is a misunderstanding that could have been avoided… understanding that certain states don’t have county government. We have county courts, but municipalities supply services. The formula given out allocates a certain amount to counties and some to municipalities. More to counties. We thought the town would have $3 million. Now $1 million. $2 million goes to “Windham County” which doesn’t exist. Officials have made this point, and thought the municipalities would get the money. Lots of work remains to fix the problem. But now we have $1 million.

    Tim – the municipal budget is $18-19 million.. this isn’t a huge influx of funds.

    Ian – need any clarity on remaining items?

    Elwell – based on the setting of the goals and the direction you provide… we have plenty of direction. Just tell us if we aren’t headed in the right direction.

    Tim – any new info on cannabis? The state will decide to form a commission?

    Elwell – the state board was just created. Not begin in earnest yet.

  • Town Committees and Boards – Appointments

    Liz – Joel Martell to the Town’s Energy Committee. He’s been on it and is well qualified…


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