Chester board OKs Palmer Bridge repairs, delays vote on VTrans bridge replacement plan

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The heat from the question of taking residents’ land by eminent domain was turned up a notch at the Sept. 4 Chester Select Board meeting as Brian and Amy Mosher reiterated their claim that they would not negotiate for the right of way needed to consolidate three bridges into one along Route 103 north of the Stone Village.

Brian Mosher, left, explains that the plan will put commercial traffic 12 feet from his door as Amy Mosher, center listens. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

It was on the board’s agenda to chose one of the alternatives for solving problems with the Thompson, Jewitt and Palmer bridges proposed by VTrans at a special meeting on Aug. 29 and board chair Arne Jonynas introduced the topic by saying that the board would have to make a decision that evening.

“My big concern was the safety of the bridges we have … dumping onto 103,” said board chair Arne Jonynas, who told the meeting that Plan 5 seemed to make the most sense to him.  That plan would remove the Palmer Bridge and route traffic to the end of Jewitt Road, then take a portion of the Moshers’ property to continue the road north to the farm that Lisa Kaiman of Jersey Girls Dairy has purchased from Palmer Goodrich.

Brian Mosher told the board that choosing Plan 5 would route commercial farm traffic 12 feet from his door. He also noted the uncertainty of what would be done with the old Goodrich property, including moving Jersey Girls’ retail operation there.

Jewitt Road passes close to the Mosher house at the left

“It sounds great,” said Mosher, “but not if you live in my house. You need two bridges there, you need to save Palmer Bridge.”  He continued, “I think its a pretty high bar – condemnation – this country’s founded on property rights.”

“There’s a lot of things we have to do as a board, some are not as pleasant as others,” said Jonynas. “We have to make decisions sometimes that upset people, for the good of the majority of people. We have to make a decision about these bridges. It’s regarding safety, it’s regarding money, it’s not simple.”

Dick Jewitt told the board that they have an obligation to at least do a temporary fix before winter. The 3-ton limit on the Palmer Bridge makes it inaccessible to fire, ambulance and fuel trucks as well as Kaiman’s farm equipment.

Kaiman said she is also losing hay fields and pasture to the project. “I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t like it,” said Kaiman.

Jewitt noted that the bridge does not need new abutments the way the other two bridges do so it’s possible that the town could do a bridge with beams and a wooden deck for less than the state’s $1.2 million estimate.

Arne Jonynas objects to Amy Mosher’s characterization of the decision process

After discussion of the situation, Mosher again spoke, noting that success at condemning his property is not a given. “You need to consult an attorney,” said Mosher. “If you say No. 5, the state is going to say ‘Yeehaw’ and condemn the Moshers’ property. But your face is going to be on it. Not the state, but the Town of Chester.”

Amy Mosher then told the board that they did not need to make the decision that night and she empathized with them. She noted the historical significance of her home. It is listed on the state Register of Historic Places and eligible to be on the National Register, which affords it some protection including legal reviews during the project.

Mosher also told the board that she felt they were being strong-armed by Town Manager David Pisha.

“I really want to have trust in my select board,” said Mosher, “I want to feel there’s integrity here.” Mosher went on to repeat that there was no need to make the decision that evening and invited board members to see the property.

“I take a little offense to the idea that we are being strong armed,” said Jonynas, “and I also take offense that you think we are not being sincere to our job because we may take a vote in a direction you don’t approve.”

Lee Gustafson suggests a temporary fix on the Palmer bridge and a delay on the alternatives decision

When Amy Mosher rose to speak again, Jonynas said he didn’t want to hear any more, but then allowed her to relate a conversation she had had with Kyle Obenauer, the historical specialist for VTrans. Obenauer, she said, told her that when he wrote the letter for the scoping project, he was unaware of the Palmer Bridge and Plan 5.  Mosher told the board she expects to make a public records request to see how the project came about and reiterated that the board does not need to make the decision now.

Board member Lee Gustafson suggested holding off on the alternatives decision but to make the decision to go ahead with the $89,000 fix on the Palmer Bridge before winter. A motion to that effect by Heather Chase passed and the alternatives discussion will continue at the next meeting.

Town manager search to begin

Karen Friedman outlines VLCT’s services in conducting a search for a new town manager

As the board embarks on a search for a new town manager, with the Pisha’s retirement, he board heard from Abigail Friedman of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which provides assistance for municipalities in conducting employment searches.

Friedman told the board that VLCT handles the advertising as well as the “back office” functions of receiving applications and resumes to protect the confidentiality of candidates. VLCT would also schedule interviews and coach the board on the legal requirements of interview questions. The league can also provide model contracts as a basis for negotiating with candidates and handle background checks.

She said a search takes between four and six months and could cost $5,000 to $7,500.

Town Plan Energy Chapter reviewed

It was expected that reviewing the new energy chapter of the town plan would be time consuming and perhaps stretch across two meetings, but Naomi Johnson and Tim Roper of the Planning Commission sat in on the meeting and explained that having the chapter is part of reaching the state goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

While an energy chapter is not required by the state, those towns that do adopt an enhanced chapter are given more deference at the Public Utilities Commission when they are considering the siting of wind and solar installations.

They also noted that energy targets are advisory and that there are no “energy police.” The board also discussed having an energy commission that could take the lead in guiding public behavior around energy use.  The board adopted the energy chapter but took no action on an town energy commission.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: ChesterFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Leave a Reply

First name or initial and full last name required. No aliases accepted.