Chester snowmobilers: Class 4 road change could ‘cripple’ club Smokeshire land owners say road no longer belongs to town

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The discussion of a Class 4 road generally won’t fill the benches at Chester Town Hall, but last Wednesday more than 20 people turned out in person, with more attending via Zoom for a request to make a town road private.

Paul Bidgood, who owns land in the Smokeshire area, told the Select Board that he believes the town had incorrectly put Bailey Hill Road on the town highway map in 2010 and he wants that corrected. He and Cortlandt Pennell want the town to discontinue the road so it will be for the sole use of land owners who abut the “former roadbed.”

Board chair Arne Jonynas, left, and Vice chair Lee Gustafson listen as Bidgood speaks of his family's stewardship of the land. <small>Courtesy SAPA-TV</small>

Board chair Arne Jonynas, left, and vice chair Lee Gustafson listen as Bidgood speaks of his family’s stewardship of the land. Courtesy SAPA-TV

Bidgood said they were “entitled to our private property.”

But Chester resident Dick Jewett, who said he has been the Chester Snowmobile Club’s Trail Master for 35 years, noted that the club has cared for 59 miles of trails in six towns in two counties, which includes improvements to Class 4 roads that were otherwise impassable. That includes Bailey Hill Road, which is part of a link to snowmobile trails to the north that would become inaccessible — in both directions — if the road were to be discontinued.

Jewett, who served for a number of years on the Select Board, said that discontinuing the road would “cripple the club and possibly ruin us.” He added that the club’s work, which includes building bridges, has cost the club tens of thousands of dollars.

Chester resident Mike Westine, who is also a former Select Board member, said that the decision on the road was made 25 years ago and, in light of the current floods, the road – which is at a higher elevation – may be needed again in the future.

Board chair Arne Jonynas told the audience that the board would take no action during the meeting.

“It’s a lot to take in,” said Jonynas, referring to a large number of maps and documents the board was given as part of the Bidgood and Pennell request. “There’s a lot to work through, a lot of questions that have come up.”

Jonynas said it was important for the board to do its due diligence including “more work, more time and consultation with the town’s attorney.” He said the decision would have “huge ramifications” for the community, neighboring communities and “even southern Vermont.”

He also pointed to the importance of the snowmobile club calling it “part of the fiber of this town.”

Select Board member Peter Hudkins, a Smokeshire resident, said he does not have a snowmobile but is a regular user of the road.

“Is there any resident here in favor of throwing up the road?” asked Hudkins using a colloquial term for the town giving up its ownership of the right of way. No one raised a hand, according to Town Manager Julie Hance.

In response to a statement by a snowmobile club member that they are good stewards of the land, Bidgood responded that his family have been perfect stewards of their land for nine generations.

According to a 2005 Rutland Herald article, Bidgood, a Massachusetts attorney, filed a lawsuit in 1997 against the towns of Chester and Cavendish seeking them to maintain the road year round, saying that he planned to move there and reestablish the family farm. He tried to make Cavendish plow a portion of the road on its side beginning in the late 1990s contending that, since it was a Class 3 road, it should be plowed. Cavendish responded by reclassifying it a Class 4 road, which meant it did not have to maintain it at all. More litigation ensued, including a request to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Herald reported that Bidgood could access his property on the VAST snowmobile trail by paying for an annual membership and buying a decal. The paper noted that in a court filing Bidgood said that VAST “is not a good organization. I would shoot myself before I had to join VAST.”

Susan Spaulding, who was Chester Town Manager at the time, was quoted as saying, “He really doesn’t like snowmobiles.”

When everyone who wanted to speak had been heard, Hance said she would be sending the packet of research materials supporting Bidgood’s request to attorney Jim Carroll who would likely come back to the board in a future executive session.

Offsetting $378,000 budget hike discussed

The board spent the majority of the meeting discussing ways to offset the $378,000 increase in the town’s municipal budget, proposed at $4 million.

Hance said the increase includes the $176,000 first principal payment on the Emergency Services Building, which had been expected. The remaining $202,000 represents a 5 percent increase over last year, she said, pointing to the overall inflation rate of 8.5 percent last year for comparison. (According to various data sources, the inflation rate for all of 2023 was around 3.1 percent and was between 6.1 and 8.3 percent in 2022.)

The board discussed expenditures they might be able to do without and other sources of funds, including possibly dipping into monies controlled by the Trustees of Public Funds. Members noted that the overall taxes included education tax, which they have no control over, and that Chester provides a substantial amount of services. Hance said people have told her Chester is a “small large town.”

Jonynas said that some towns are “level funding” their budgets, but with prices going up, that means cutting services. Board member Lee Gustafson said it was hard to cut, but wondered how taxpayers would be able to afford the tax hike.

“You can’t have your grocery bill double at home and not expect the town’s bills to double, or triple,” said Hance. “But we can’t not buy blades for the plows, chains for the grader or medical insurance.”

The board has to decide on the budget by the end of January for a public vote at Town Meeting in March. But members thought that it would be useful to have more public input into future budgets.

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  1. RAYMOND MAKUL says:

    Some out of state property owners think this is their personal Disneyland, and the full time residents are Goofy.

  2. Darryl Douglas says:

    First if I understand what I just read correctly, in 1997 He filed a lawsuit to try and force the towns to maintain the road year-round now in 2024 he wants it thrown up to most likely take away the public use they have enjoyed for many years. Sounds like a typical transplant too me.

  3. Scott MacDonald says:

    So, a lawyer from MA sues the town before he moves here, in 1997. BUT, his family lived on the farm for nine generations. A generation is generally considered to be about 25 years, which puts this in the 1790s or so. That means from the 1790s until 1997, everything was just fine until a MA attorney decided to move to his family’s farm, and start suing people and complaining. Do I have this right? Just wondering.