Chester board picks bridge option, sets bond warning, seeks citizens for town manager search

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last Wednesday, the Chester Select Board made decisions on some issues it has talked about for several meetings, including the amount of the bond for the proposed emergency services building and which of five alternatives it would choose for the replacement of bridges along Route 103 north.

Perhaps the most difficult and emotional question was selecting the bridge alternative. One option would involve a future expenditure to rebuild the Palmer Road bridge while the other would involve a contested condemnation process — the taking of resident’s property and routing road traffic through their dooryard.

Jewitt Road resident Amy Mosher reads a letter to the board while neighbors Lisa Kaiman and Dick Jewitt (right) listen. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

VTrans had given the town five alternatives for replacing the Thompson Road bridge and had recommended Option 5, which would would have placed a new bridge between the existing Thompson and Jewett Road bridges, and demolished those bridges as well as the Palmer Road bridge. That option cuts off access to the former Goodrich property now owned by Lisa Kaiman and would require taking land from Amy and Brian Mosher to build an extension to Jewett Road. The Moshers’ property is on the state’s historic register and is thus afforded a degree of protection from condemnation.

Option 4 would still replace the Thompson and Jewett Road bridges with one between them but leave the Palmer bridge in place. That bridge is in poor condition and cannot support emergency equipment, fuel deliveries or other heavy vehicles and would need to be repaired – at least temporarily – before winter.

And since construction for any of the VTrans plans would be several years off, the board authorized spending $89,000 on stopgap repairs at its Sept. 9 meeting. While the bridge only serves one home, the board was reminded by Dick Jewett that Palmer Road is a public road and the town is obliged to maintain access over it.

Board chair Arne Jonynas noted the high bar to reach when taking private property

According to VTrans, a long-term fix of the Palmer bridge would cost upward of $1.2 million. But, noting that its abutments were sound, Cold River Bridges estimated a replacement would come in at around $400,000. This left the board with the choice of what could be a lengthy and possibly unsuccessful eminent domain action or repairing the Palmer bridge and planning for its replacement.

Board chair Arne Jonynas noted the difficulty of taking property. “It’s a high bar to pass when you are going to condemn someone’s land,” said Jonynas.

Noting that the Palmer bridge’s entrance onto Route 103 was not as safe as the state’s proposed new bridge, board member Heather Chase encouraged the board to be “visionary.”

Board member Lee Gustafson agreed that the sightlines were not ideal but said they should be adequate. “We’re not just talking about the money here but the impact of the town going through with condemnation on the reputation of the town.”

Board member Ben Whalen moved to choose Option 4 saying “the future is the future.” Whalen’s motion was approved 3-2 with Gustafson, Whalen and Jonynas voting in favor, while Chase and Leigh Dakin voted against.

“That was a tough one,” said Jewett as he left the meeting.

Emergency services building warning adopted

Next, the board looked at what to include in the emergency services/town garage project so it could finalize and approve the warning ahead of a town vote on Nov. 5.

The floor plan for the proposed EMS building Photo provided

The plan is to build a 15,000-square-foot building on Pleasant Street to house the police and fire departments as well as the ambulance service while rehabilitating the town garage to bring it up to code and make it more efficient.

Before adopting the warning, the board had to decide whether any of the options should be included. After some discussion, board members decided not to put in a crane or seal the floors but felt that as a health measure it made sense to install a vent system for the welding bay. They also opted to install a sprinkler system to protect the town’s equipment in case of a fire.

With that done, the board adopted a warning for a town vote on a bond for $4,777,194. There will be information meetings at the Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St. at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday Sept. 25 and Wednesday Oct. 23. There will also be a town meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday Nov. 4 with a vote by Australian ballot the following day.

High Street residents request speed limit reduction

High Street resident Sheila Garaffa asks the board for a lower speed limit.

Sheila Garaffa, a long-time resident of High Street, complained that cars are exceeding the 30-mph speed limit and asked that the limit be dropped to 25 mph. Garaffa said she walks her dog on the street and that there are now “a lot of kids” there as well with four new families.

Kelly Levy told the board that her children ride their bikes on High Street and that she feels people are driving too fast.

Gustafson said he understood their concerns and that he would like to see some data collected from the town’s portable radar speed sign.

Public members sought for Town Manager search committee

Town Manager David Pisha will retire in March of next year

With Town Manager David Pisha retiring in March, the Select Board is beginning the search process for his replacement. At Wednesday’s meeting, they drew the outline of a search committee, which will be made up of two Select Board members, two town employees and three townspeople.

Jonynas and Chase agreed to serve and asked that members of the public who wish to serve on the committee get in touch with the town office at 875-2173.

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  1. Thank you for clarifying, so I hope that the Select Board makes the best decision in the best interest of all the citizens of Chester.

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    They are owned by the Town of Chester.

  3. Frank Esposito says:

    regarding the bridge issue, who owns and is responsible for the Thompson and Jewitt road bridges, the property owners , the town of Chester or the state of Vermont?