Prospects for Church St. sidewalk in Chester distant, dimmer Pinske questions loan fund, election update

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Many Chester residents who use Church Street as part of their walking route have long asked for a sidewalk to separate them from the traffic. But the possibility of that happening dimmed a bit on Wednesday night as Christina Haskins of Dufresne Group gave a presentation to the Select Board on the scoping study done on the project.

In October 2019, the board was presented with three options to build a sidewalk along Church Street from Main Street  to North Street. A fourth option – to do nothing – was presented for comparison. The board chose otion No. 3, which “had more favorable impacts,” according to Haskins, and  — at $1.18 million — the lowest construction cost. The idea then was to apply for the State of Vermont’s Bike and Pedestrian grant, which would cover 80 percent, leaving the town to come up with $236,000 in construction matching funds.

A slide from Haskins’ presentation shows the estimated cost of the sidewalk project

In the interim, however, Dufresne calculated that the 2020 construction costs would be more like $1.34 million. But, they also estimated that if the town applied for the Bike and Pedestrian grant in June of 2021 and it was awarded that fall, it would be 2022 by the time engineering work could begin. Haskins said that VTrans recommends a four year timeline which would include a “pretty intense environmental review.”

There would also be a right-of-way process that will take time.

With the four-year VTrans design window, it would be 2026 by the time the project was ready to go and, by then, the construction cost would be approximately $1.6 million with an additional $700,000 in design and construction engineering and project management costs bringing the total project to $2.6 million. Chester’s 20 percent match would come to $460,000.

Haskins noted that the construction phase included a 25 percent contingency, which is high, but considering that the design engineering has not been done, is reasonable. It would be expected that as a project like this gets closer to construction, the engineers would refine the contingency number downward. Haskins also that if the source of funds was not the federal government, the timeframe would be shorter and costs would be less.

Pointing to the June 2021 deadline for submitting an application for the Bike and Pedestrian grant, Town Manager Julie Hance said that left time to look at how the economy is shaking out before asking for money. She also said there may be other grant opportunities to help with the project.

The Chester Select Board holds its hearing on the sidewalk project in person and via Zoom. Courtesy SAPA-TV

There was discussion of phasing the project and Hance said that the scoping study was only to decide whether a sidewalk in that area was feasible. She noted that no decision has been made and the next step toward doing the project would be authorizing her to apply for the Bike and Pedestrian grant. Hance said that with the Public Safety building under construction this would be a financial stretch over the next few years.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas said the town would have to watch its spending but that the document presented shows the town how it could proceed in the future if its finances looked good and people wanted to go ahead. The full scoping study with illustrations, maps, photos, budgets and more information can be found here.

As with previous hearings on the sidewalk project, residents of Church Street did not show any substantial objection to the idea, but continued to complain that drivers have been treating the residential street as a bypass and traveling at high speeds. Several have also noted that large trucks are also using Church Street to cut through town.

Hance said that a second radar sign for Church Street has been ordered and will be placed facing Main Street by the bridge at Meadow Road. Residents mentioned that it could be more valuable pointing up the hill to the north rather than toward the south. But Hance said that the sign needs a longer straightaway to register the speed.  She also noted that a retired Vermont State Trooper would be coming on to the police force part time to run radar.

Economic development loan fund questioned

Chainsaw carver Barre Pinske asked the board to lower the bar to allow microloans to be issued from the town’s Economic Development Fund. Currently, an applicant has to work with the Springfield Regional Development Corp. and Small Business Administration and focus on the applicant’s business plan and operations to help assure success and repayment of the loan.

Barre Pinske asked the select board to change the policy for lending from the town’s economic development fund. Telegraph file photo

In the past, the fund has loaned money to businesses like Misty Valley Books, Heritage Deli & Bakery, the Chester laundromat and Pinske. Loans are generally for capital expenditures to help businesses grow and create jobs but the approval process has been fairly conservative since the fund lost approximately $50,000 when Connecticut River Bank foreclosed on Martin and Joan Straub, the owners of 90 The Common, which they were renting to the owners of Alice’s Restaurant.

The EDF loans are also not supposed to be the primary source of funding, but second to a bank loan or other lender.

Pinske used his own situation as an example, saying that he used his EDF loan to buy a computer controlled machine that cuts out rough forms of some of his statues. He noted that the loan is nearly paid off, but since the machine broke down, he needs about $5,000 to build a new machine out of old parts. He noted that bank loans require collateral but that a broken machine won’t qualify. Pinske noted that he would need to write a new business plan and do other things to qualify when he already has done that for his previous loan.

In the end the board decided it would – at a future session – take a look at the lending policy with an eye toward making microloans. The fund balance is now approximately $390,000.

Election update

Town Clerk Deb Aldrich told the board that the State of Vermont had mailed 2,087 ballots to Chester voters. According to the office of the Secretary of State, they were mailed on Sept. 25 and were in voters hands the following week. Aldrich said that as of Oct. 7, 294 had been returned either by mail or dropped off by voters.

The state’s My Voter Page can give you a confirmation that your ballot has been received by the clerk and processed.

Going forward, Aldrich said that voters could mail their ballots, put them in the drop box at Town Hall or hand them over in person at the clerk’s office. Anyone who is planning to vote in person on Nov. 3 should bring the ballot received in the mail.

If a voter does not bring that ballot to the polls, election officials will give the voter another ballot, but he or she will will have to sign an “affidavit of no ballot cast” saying that the mailed ballot has not already been used.

Aldrich said that things have been very smooth so far but reminded voters to put their ballot into the “voted ballot envelope,” which must be filled out and signed. If it is not signed, it will not be counted.

“Every day the ballots that come in are marked ‘received’ people can go on the My Voter Page and see that their ballots have been received,” said Aldrich, noting that while the ballots are checked in, they will not be opened until Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3) when the will be put through the scanning machine.

You will find The Telegraph’s Guide to Voting Procedures here.

In other business

Hance said that the public service building construction is moving forward and on schedule. “I know there are periods of time when it seems like nothing is taking place,” said Hance, “but it is on schedule.”

The town has received several grants including funds to digitize land records stretching back 40 years so searches can be done online. “Something our local attorneys have been asking for for a number of years,” Hance said.

There is also a local government reimbursement grant for Covid-19 expenses by the town for about $4,000. Hance also said she would see if that grant program would cover all or part of the sound system the town is purchasing to make the remote meetings more understandable.

The board approved the use of Cobleigh Field on Saturday Oct. 24 for a Halloween celebration including a movie and bonfire. The actual dispensing of candy will be done in a “drive-by” at the Green Mountain High School at 6 p.m. that evening.

The town will also take part in a seven-town marketing grant managed by the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce. Other towns include Weston, Grafton, Ludlow and Londonderry and the idea is to make a regional marketing video for the area and participating in it will help cut the cost of Chester’s own video in half, according to Hance.

Finally, the town has been awarded a $74,000 Advanced Assistance Grant from FEMA to gather data such as surveys, soil analysis and geo-technical information to make the town eligible for VTrans grants to work on a mile and a half of Route 35 that still needs to be finished.

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  1. Tom Knockenhauer says:

    If you drive on Church Street and don’t see anyone or anything you’re driving too fast.

  2. Stephanie Smith says:

    Over the years there have been multiple sidewalk conversations to no fruition. Because of the current traffic situation I think it would be wise for walkers to find a safer route. A few years ago the speed limit was reduced with no results. In fact, I think speed increased.

    I have lived on Church Street for over 30 years and witnessed the increase in traffic to the point of being intolerable today. I watch the cars turn off of Main Street and hit the gas pedal to drive as fast as possible. Multiple times a day oversized trucks either turnaround in the church parking lot, or don’t bother and just continue up Church St. Just the other day a “wide load” house came down the hill to Main St. I have a hard time believing they meet the weight limits on the 2 bridges.

    In the summer time, with windows opened, the traffic is so heavy I cannot hear the TV or listen to music without it on full volume. I can’t sit on my porch and visit with friends and neighbors without being interrupted each time a car flies by.

    Not that long ago Church Street was designated a “No thru traffic” street. What ever happened to that? Today I called it the Depot St. Byway. Therefore, I think Church St. residents deserve a reduction on our property taxes.

  3. Sharon Jonynas says:

    I live right near Church Street, and I often walk on Church Street. There are spots on the road that are dangerous for pedestrians. Every time I walk on the road, I see others doing the same, and I’ve walked on it at all times of the day. There have been times when I’ve been afraid because of cars and trucks, and one stretch on the road is especially dangerous. I agree that it’s good to know that the town is working on this, and perhaps one day it can get done. I look forward to it for the future. Spending money to make Chester safer and more attractive to people who want to stay active is beneficial.

  4. Phil Perlah says:

    My wife and I have been walking Church Street at least once a week since the virus. We don’t live there, so we only see what we see.

    1. About 30 walks, we have seen maybe 4 other walkers.
    2. We have never seen an 18 wheeler.
    3. We have never seen a senior walker. The road is very hilly and I doubt a senior walker (with the exception of my wife and myself) would be inclined to walk it.
    4. If I did live on Church Street I would be storming Town Hall with torches and pitchforks to protest the damage to property and stone walls along the road.
    5. A good idea, IMHO, would be to rationalize the sidewalk along 103 from the intersection of Dalrymple to the Univeralist Church. The existing sidework zigzags across 103 and is discontinuous.

  5. Joan Wacker says:

    I live on Church St. There are a lot of walkers, and they seem to all have a specific time they walk their dogs. If you only use this street several times a week, you’ll most likely miss this.
    I worry about the big 18-wheelers on this road with the walkers where there are no sidewalks. Too many curves for the truckers to see a walker soon enough.
    I know truckers like Church St because they can get onto Main St easier, and it has a wider turn for them. But a lot of the walkers are elderly, takes longer to cross streets, and we all know it’s impossible for big rigs to stop abruptly.
    It is good to know you’re working on this, however, it will be wonderful if it can be done.
    A lot of walkers make the “loop.” From Main st, up by Smitty’s, towards the Stone Village, down Church St, and back to Main. It’s quite a walk, but younger folks really like it.

  6. Arlene Mutschler says:

    I drive on Church street several times a week. I have yet to see a pedestrian or biker on the road??? So, why should I be asked to spend mega dollars to put in a sidewalk or bike lane?? It is barely wide enough for 2 cars, altho I have also rarely seen another car on the road either? It is hilly and curvy? With all the other VTtrans projects that need doing and the major big bucks being spent on the building? I dont see this as a priority? Not to mention the money spent on the covid projects? And getting a grant from either the fed or State? is just taking the money out of one pocket and putting it in another. It is ALL MY money!!

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