Grafton softens earlier language, delivers Route 35 petition to Chester

Cars travel over the pitted Route 35 heading north in Chester. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

By Cynthia Prairie
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

It took three months, but Grafton Select Board chair Joe Pollio finally delivered the long-awaited petition to Chester Town officials demanding the quick repair of Route 35 in Chester.

Chester Town Manager David Pisha has his hand on a stack of files filled with work that the town has done on Route 35. File photo The Chester Telegraph

There is one twist. The petition, whose last of 232 signatures was apparently gathered more than two months ago, actually “demands” that the town “commence work” within 72 hours to repair the rocky Route 35 and threatened a lawsuit if Chester did not.

However, in the cover letter to the petition, which is dated April 11, 2019 and was delivered on April 26, Pollio said Town Manager David Pisha’s explanation of upcoming work in the town’s spring newsletter was sufficient to meet their demands. There was no mention of either a timeline or a threat of a lawsuit — in effect, Never Mind. You can read that letter here.

In the April-June town newsletter, Pisha wrote, “…as soon as the asphalt plants begin to open in May, Chester will be taking bids from paving contractors to skim coat the entire length of road that lies within the boundaries of the Town.” He added that “another 300 feet will be extensively upgraded.”

In an interview, Pisha said that the plan is to skim coat the “entire section to the Grafton line.” As for taking any action with the petition, he added, “It’s kind of a moot point.”

On Tuesday, Grafton Town Administrator Bill Kearns said that what the petition was seeking was a promise from Pisha that the work was going to begin and that the newsletter satisfied that. At the March 2 Town Meeting, Pollio said he would go to court if he did not receive a personal commitment from Chester Select Board Chair Arne Jonynas what road repairs would be done.

Route 35, which is maintained by the towns in which it lies, has deteriorated in Chester since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 took out a huge chunk of the road and undermined the remaining road bed, making maintenance difficult, according to Chester officials. The south branch of the Williams River runs along the road from Popple Dungeon Road north into Chester.

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

The controversy began in February during a Grafton Select Board meeting, when board chair Joe Pollio addressed the agenda item that included the petition drive, which he had begun a few weeks earlier.

Although he claimed that he started the drive as a private citizen, lines were blurred because Pollio spoke from his seat on the board and had enlisted the aid of Town Administrator Kearns to not only research laws surrounding road repair but write and distribute petitions for signatures.

During that meeting, town employees and elected officials speculated on why Chester was not repairing the road, saying that it had no plans or money to and that after Irene, town officials did not apply for federal funds to fix the road.  (Pisha later told The Telegraph that the town had actually received and used the funds for Route 35 as the federal government required.) It was also revealed during that meeting that no official from the town of Grafton had broached the subject with Chester officials before starting the petition.

After reading the initial Telegraph article, Pisha watched a video of that Grafton meeting and responded to Grafton officials with a forceful letter, saying that officials should have called the town first “to find out the facts … That is not how I would expect neighbors to behave.” He also outlined plans for doing the road repair.

Around the same time, Kearns returned with an offer to drop the legal proceedings if Chester sent a letter with a “date certain” for completing the Route 35 road work, a request that Pisha dismissed, saying, ” I don’t think the Select Board will agree to anything that concrete. … there are too many variables.”

While Pisha’s newsletter message gives a general idea of when work will be done — and he intends to have all the skim coating finished this summer — no “date certain” is mentioned.

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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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