Hazard Mitigation Plan adopted; sidewalk grants sought

By Karen Zuppinger

An updated Hazard Mitigation Plan, which FEMA requires of cities and towns if they are to receive federal aid, was adopted in a special meeting by the Select Board Monday, Aug. 20, delayed almost a week because the board had failed to read the document by last Wednesday, Aug. 15.

During last Wednesday’s meeting, Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission representative Jason Rasmussen said that the purpose of the plan was to equip towns with ways to prepare for or prevent disasters such as hazardous waste, flooding, fires and structural problems.

The contents of the plan was to be open for public discussion then either accepted or rejected by the Select Board. However, it was discovered that at least of the five board members had actually read the plan. (Member Tom Bock was absent.) You can read the plan here.

Chair John DeBenedetti questioned if the plan was synonymous with the towns Emergency Plan that had been adopted in 2011. Rasmussen stated that it was not: The town’s Emergency Plan was basic plan specific to Chester hierarchy, while the Hazard Mitigation Plan addresses the possible threats to a town and what it can do to prevent or lessen them in advance.

Jason Rasmussen of SWCRPC at last week’s Select Board meeting./Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Board member Derek Suursoo said that he was uncomfortable signing off on a document that he had not read. Fellow board member William Lindsay added that he “could not answer any public comments because” he too had not read the document. DeBenedetti then asked if there was a time limit to approving the document.

Rasmussen said the town had not updated the plan since 2005 or 2006, making it of some urgency. He added that the plan was also tied to FEMA’s grant program, monies from which could not be disbursed without an approved plan.

Assistant town clerk Julie Hance said that three projects in Chester were awaiting the funds, two on Popple Dungeon Road. That’s when the board decided to hold a special meeting for public comment and a vote on Monday.

Talk of sidewalks

Hance also presented two grant proposals to help the town maintain and grow its sidewalk network, each with a required 10 percent match from town coffers. The Bicycle and Pedestrian grant for $373,350 – of both state and federal funds – would be used to upgrade the sidewalk from the Jiffy Mart opposite Austin’s Antiques up through the Depot to the North Street bridge.

Suursoo asked Hance if future road upgrades could possibly damage any upgrades to the sidewalks. Hance said that she didn’t foresee that being an issue since any work done to the sidewalks would be done by professionals taking into consideration any roadwork in the future.

The Scoping and Feasibility Grant for $30,000 would be used to study the possibility of extending sidewalks from the bridge next to the Sunoco station out to Green Mountain High School.

While several on the board agreed that sidewalks leading out to the school is a popular idea among many town residents and provided safety for the children walking along that stretch of Route 103, Suursoo raised concerns about the feasibility of the feasibility study. Specifically, he wondered why the town would spend money to studying something that could be discovered without such a study. Hance replied that the federal government required this preliminary step before awarding construction grants.

The board also asked if they gave the go-ahead to apply for the grant, was it possible to reject it at a later date. Hance said that while she believed that it might be possible, her time commitment in grant preparation is valuable and the federal government wouldn’t look favorably upon a town that rejected a grant that it had awarded. The board then unanimously approved both grants.

If the grants are approved by the federal government, Chester could see the money starting as early as 2013.

Transportation panel needs Chester member

In other news, the Transportation Advisory Committee of the SWCRPC is looking for a new board member from Chester following the resignation of Bruce McEnaney, who had served as representative for Chester for 20 years. McEnaney had also recently resigned from the Chester Development Review Board.

The transportation panel makes “recommendations on regional transportation policies, review(s) and provide(s) comment on VT Agency of Transportation projects.”

Rasmussen said the Select Board must appoint a member to TAC, and suggested that it select two members, including an alternate so that Chester would always have someone available to attend planning meetings.

Town Manager David Pisha said that he had posted an ad to fill the vacancy on TAC but had only one verbal response to it before it expired. Several members saw an urgency to fill the post considering that major projects are in the pipeline, including the BioMass project in Springfield and expansion in housing at Killington that could have a major long term impact on traffic moving through Chester.

Anyone interested in being considered as an appointee to TAC please contact David Pisha at 802-875-2174 ext 106.

Karen Zuppinger is a freelance writer and resident of Chester. She has a B.A. in theater and studied film at the NYU Graduate film program. Karen has been writing for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in periodicals both online and in print. She’s has also served as producer, writer and director in numerous film, TV and commercials projects.

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