Forest rangers ask for Derry help in controlling rogue footbridge, bike paths Cannabis vote still on burner; joint policing with Jamaica considered

Forest Service Ranger Martina Barnes asks the board for help in getting a rogue bridge and trails under control.

By Cherise Madigan
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

US. Forest Service rangers are looking into a seemingly unsanctioned footbridge and adjoining bike paths constructed in Londonderry’s Sherwood Forest neighborhood, and on Monday they requested the town Select Board’s assistance in investigating and resolving the issue.

Martina Barnes, USFS Manchester District ranger, told the Londonderry Select Board at its Monday night meeting that the Forest Service was told of the construction by groups including the Catamount Trail Association and the Green Mountain Club.

Barnes said the bridge connects Rowley Lane to Brophy Lane over the Flood Brook, and does not appear to be properly engineered, posing a hazard for members of the public who are trying to access Forest Service land.

Barnes’s colleague Dana Strout added that erosion and rot had also been seen on parts of the bridge, compounding their concern as there is a “substantial drop to the Flood Brook” below.

Though it was suggested that the bridge was an Eagle Scout project built by a local teen, the board determined that the Scout bridge had been built there about 20 years ago, this one had been installed within the last two years. Road Commissioner Taylor Prouty added that there are no recent permits for the project.

The bike trails that the bridge leads to were not authorized by the Forest Service, Barnes added, saying that such unauthorized construction is “not something totally out of the ordinary.” Regardless, the rangers requested the board’s assistance in addressing both issues.

“It would be our recommendation to dismantle the footbridge so people cannot access those trails on the other side,” Barnes said. Ultimately Prouty and Vice Chair Tom Cavanagh agreed to conduct a site visit with Barnes this spring, once the snow melts.

Retail cannabis, joint policing contract and PFAS

Last week, the Select Board held the first in a series of special meetings with town boards and community organizations to hear viewpoints on retail cannabis, which was legalized in Vermont last fall. During that discussion, the board departed from a previous plan to hold the vote prior to Town Meeting and is now leaning toward voting on retail cannabis after Town Meeting, once the rules surrounding such sales have been established.

[A video of the special meeting on cannabis will be linked here once it’s available.]

“Because the state’s cannabis control board will leave very little decision-making to the municipalities — (such as) location and signage, as they comply with local zoning — we thought it best to wait and see what we’d be getting ourselves into,” said board chair George Mora in a followup (Mora was not at Monday’s Select Board meeting).

Residents will have to vote on a local options tax if the town wants to collect revenue from cannabis sales, says state Rep. Kelly Pajala.

Londonderry farmer Emmett Dunbar has advocated for a vote to opt-in on retail cannabis sooner rather than later in the interest of securing opportunities for the town — primarily attracting one of five “integrated retail operations” that allow both medical and retail cannabis sales permitted by the state. The board feels that the likelihood of Londonderry being chosen is low, Mora said, and that a big dispensary may not be a good fit for the town.

Additionally, the state’s cannabis control board has not yet been formed and thus has not decided on rules to regulate the retail cannabis market.

A 1-percent local option tax on sales — which can also be applied to alcohol and rooms and meals — was the focus of discussion on Monday. The option tax would be required for the town to collect revenue from retail cannabis and will likely be voted on alongside the cannabis question, said Town Clerk and state Rep. Kelly Pajala.

As residents shot down an option tax on all three categories in an extensive discussion at last year’s Town Meeting, Pajala suggested the board pursue some local outreach before the tax is voted on again.

“If there’s going to be a delay in when the meeting and the vote happens, I think it would be useful to have some more in-depth discussion around what the proposal is for the local option tax,” she said.

“We’re talking about hiring a part-time policeman and other things, that money has to come from somewhere,” added board member Jim Fleming.

No action was taken on Monday night, though Cavanagh reiterated that the town intended to move forward with a meeting “once more information is available” from the cannabis control board.

While retail cannabis and the option tax will likely be voted on through a special ballot later this year, policing services for the town are slated for a vote at Town Meeting this spring. Londonderry has contracted services from Vermont State Police in the past, but officials have begun to explore shared policing from the Windham County Sheriff’s Office with the town of Jamaica.

Londonderry board members reached out to their counterparts in Jamaica following a presentation from Windham Sheriff Mark Anderson at their last meeting. The town has been contracting services from the Sheriff’s Office for at least a year. However, a shared agreement would allow Anderson to hire an officer to police both Londonderry and Jamaica, saving both towns money in the process.  And, said Cavanagh, the Sheriff’s Office has expressed interest in hiring someone who lives locally for the full-time position.

Londonderry has been contracting services from
the Windham Sheriff’s Office for at least a year.
However, a shared agreement would allow the Sheriff’s
Office to hire an officer to cover both Londonderry
and Jamaica, saving both towns money in the process. 

Though a final number is yet to be determined, the board discussed requesting $45,000 per year for 20 hours per week of policing services — with some funds leftover for time-intensive situations like crime investigations — through an article in the Town Meeting warning. In fiscal 2021, the town paid $5,000 per year for more limited policing from the State Police.

The board also approved a groundwater monitoring plan for PFAS at the town’s former septage field, just north of the Transfer Station on Route 100. Londonderry was required by the state to hire a consultant and formulate the plan after sampling conducted in 2019 revealed PFAS level exceeding the state standard.

Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe said the Londonderry has been monitoring the Route 100 septage field for years.

According to Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe, Londonderry has been monitoring soil and groundwater at the former septage field — which ceased to be used in November 2017 — for years now. In 2019, all biosolid sites in Vermont were directed by the state to test for PFAS contamination to ensure they meet the Vermont Groundwater Enforcement Standard of 20 parts per trillion.

Groundwater testing at the old septage fields in Londonderry revealed a PFAS concentration of 155 ppt. Nearby drinking water wells were then tested by Waite Heindel Environmental Management, O’Keefe explained, but there is only one site within ¼ mile of the septage fields and no PFAS were detected.

Since then the town has been developing the groundwater testing plan with Waite Heindel, as required. On Monday, the board moved to place $5,000 in Londonderry’s FY2022 budget to fulfill the testing plan.

“Once the bill comes in on this most recent effort, we will have spent $10,875.50 on PFAS planning & sampling since the beginning of 2020, and expect to spend another $4,795 this calendar year, for a total of $15,482.50,” O’Keefe explained in a follow-up email. “And there will be ongoing sampling expenses of undetermined duration and cost.”

In the future, Londonderry may be eligible for reimbursement from actions that the state may take against companies that manufacture or distribute PFAS. Officials are looking into whether the septage fields can be utilized as a solar farm to make up for those expenses in the future, O’Keefe added.

In other action:

  • Part-time Londonderry resident John Hankin, who has “extensive experience with broadband infrastructure,” has been named as an alternate representative for Londonderry to the Deerfield Valley and Southern Vermont Communication Union Districts. The town, which is a member of both districts, is also represented by Jeff Such and Ellen Seidman.
  • Ballots for the Taconic & Green Regional School District have been distributed to voters, and an informational meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The link to the meeting and the district’s annual report are available here.
  • Two town bodies —  the Energy Committee and the Development Review Board  — currently have vacancies. Interested residents should submit a town committee request form.
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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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