Rt. 35 petition to Chester stalled in Grafton Pollio says he's contacting Chester board; board says no word yet

By Cynthia Prairie
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Despite words that would indicate otherwise, there seems to be little movement on the part of the town of Grafton, which launched a petition drive more than 40 days ago to force the town of Chester to repair Route 35 or be taken to court.

Chester officials have not received the petition, which Grafton Town Administrator Bill Kearns said, in a Feb. 20 Telegraph article, would be sent “probably the following week.” Kearns said Monday, March 25 that it still hasn’t been sent.  The petition, with more than 250 names, includes about 60 Chester residents. On Tuesday, Kearns said that the petition had not been sent because “Joe, who is the main force on this, has not done it.” He was referring to Joe Pollio, chair of the Grafton Select Board.

Joe Pollio tells Grafton voters on March 5 that he is ‘trying to reach out’ to the Chester Select Board. Screenshot taken from Fact-TV

During its Town Meeting on  Saturday March 2,  Pollio, who started the petition drive with Kearns’ help in mid-February, stood to tell that audience that he “trying to reach out” to the chair of the Chester Select Board, Arne Jonynas, “seeking a commitment on what they will do for the road for this year.”

He added that, “If they refuse to give me, personally, a commitment, then I will  … (file) with the Supreme Court.” He said he would like to get on the Chester board’s agenda and attend the meeting with other Grafton residents.

Three days after the Grafton Town Meeting — on Tuesday, March 5 — voters of the town of Chester approved a long-planned $300,000 bond issue that will skim coat Route 35 to the Grafton line as a temporary fix as Chester continues working on a long-term and expensive repair.

But on Monday, more than 20 days after the Grafton Town Meeting, Jonynas says that he has not been contacted by Pollio. “Not me or the town,” he replied in an email.

And Chester Town Administrator David Pisha also said on Monday that he had not heard from Pollio. “If he had called Arne, Arne would have called me” to have him put on the agenda. “Or,” he added, “they could have called me directly.” He added that he had heard “Nothing, zero” from Pollio and “nothing from Arne” about putting them on the agenda.

Kearns told The Telegraph on Monday that Pollio may be instead reaching new board member Leigh Dakin, but Dakin said, “No, I’ve had no calls from anyone from Grafton.”

A message left Monday at Pollio’s number by The Telegraph was not returned.

Along the rocky road to repairs

One of the sticking points in this rocky road saga has been that Pollio and Kearns did not reach out to Chester officials to find out what Chester had been doing to repair Route 35, also known as the Grafton Road prior to launching to petition drive .

“That is not how I would expect neighbors to behave,” Pisha wrote to members of the Grafton Select Board in a two-page letter dated Thursday, Feb. 21.  He wrote that “Chester has worked diligently … to maintain the road. It was paved in 2004 … in 2009 … 300+ feet were repaired following Tropical Storm Irene … 300 foot section repaired in 2017.”

 I am ‘seeking a commitment on what
they (Chester) will do for the road for this year.
… If they refuse to give me, personally, a commitment,
then I will  … (file) with the Supreme Court.’

Joe Pollio
Chair
Grafton Select Board

A large chunk of Route 35, north of Popple Dungeon Road, was wiped out during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Another point of contention is whether the Grafton action could be considered official since Pollio is an elected official and chair of the Select Board and Kearns is its town administrator. Both men have played a vital roll in researching, writing and pushing the petition forward. And it was even on the agenda and discussed during a February Select Board meeting.

At the time, Kearns had told The Telegraph that if the petition “had been an official thing from the (Grafton) Select Board, we certainly would have approached the Chester Select Board first.”

Despite their involvement, both men insist that this was action by private citizens, and that Kearns drew up the petition at the request of Pollio acting as private citizen. The thought baffled Pisha who said, “As town administrator, if I create a form, it is because the Select Board has directed me to, not because a private citizen has. It (all) gives the appearance of being official.”

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. David Pisha says:

    In response to Elise Junker. Route 35 is a Class ll road that is maintained by the Town of Chester. The State is not involved.

  2. Joe Westclark says:

    I do agree that this petition is not the first way Chester should have heard from Grafton. Dialog with the Chester government should have been opened to see if there was anything in the works. It does seem like a shot across the bow and needlessly adversarial.

  3. Cynthia Prairie says:

    We’ve put in a call to Chester government for clarification. In the meantime, here is what we reported in our Feb. 20th article:

    “Neither was Tom Kennedy, head of SWRPC who said he didn’t know about the particular statute. But Kennedy did tell the The Telegraph that his organization has been working with Chester to get state funding for the Grafton Road work and to resolve problems with the Agency of Natural Resources, which has been reluctant to help fund the work needed to drain runoff and to armor the bank of the Williams River at Route 35.”

    https://www.chestertelegraph.org/2019/02/20/grafton-board-chair-as-private-citizen-starts-drive-to-force-chester-to-repair-route-35/

  4. Elise Junker says:

    What is the states role in maintaning Route 35?

  5. Joe Westclark says:

    4-lane Interstate? You don’t have to make silly exaggerations. Why don’t you take a little drive on that road to the Grafton line and back and then tell us we are asking for too much. That road is ridiculous. Also tourists don’t come to Grafton via Chester, they come in via Route 121 and up from Route 30.

    They also don’t go to Chester from Grafton on Rt 35 either, not with it in that condition. I see your tourists’ inlet from I-91 are pristine though. Route 35 is a state road. It seems to me that being a state road, Chester must receive some money from the state for its upkeep and repair. Maybe it’s based on cumulative miles of state roads in a town, but Rt 35’s miles should be included with that.

    I may be completely wrong about that but it doesn’t preclude the fact that that road needs to be fixed or closed until it is. It is dangerous the way it is.

  6. Arlene Mutschler says:

    Geesh, for heaven sake GROW UP and stop behaving like a child! What does Grafton WANT? A participation trophy for showing up? If Grafton wants the road fixed, let them get involved and help. The road has been fixed several times. Not good enough? Does Grafton want a 4-lane interstate? Perfect example of ‘good ole boy politics”! Grafton benefits as it brings tourists into their little town?