More than a decade ago, the town proposed a “Riverwalk,” a riverside walking path that would tie the village to a proposed multi-modal transportation site on Mill Street and the proposed Hoot, Toot & Whistle and Valley trails. Since then, the multi-modal transportation center has been nixed, but the Deerfield Valley Transportation Association has demolished the derelict Vermont Barnboard Factory and continues to pursue a facility at the site. The town’s trail committee’s work on the Hoot, Toot & Whistle hiking trail is nearly complete, and the committee continues to work on the Wilmington end of the Valley Trail.
At Wednesday evening’s selectboard meeting, downtown business owner Cliff Duncan urged the board to resurrect the project as part of the town’s economic recovery process. “There may be money for projects, and we may be able to find a sympathetic ear in this post-Irene period,” Duncan said.
Duncan pointed to Dover’s Valley Trail section along Route 100 as an example of how a trail could enhance Wilmington Village. “I see a lot of people using that (Valley Trail), people are there all the time,” he said. “I think one thing Wilmington has that Dover doesn’t have is a real, walkable village. Dover never developed a district that you can casually stroll around. If you’re looking for a short-term opportunity that could give business a real shot in the arm, the Riverwalk stands out.”
Because of the proximity of the edge of the river along Route 9, there are few spots west of the village for a pedestrian bridge that would connect the Riverwalk to the DVTA MOOver site and the Hoot, Toot & Whistle trail. One of the likely sites would be from a small parking area at Duncan’s Jug Barn property. Duncan acknowledged his stake in the project. “We’d love to see a trailhead there, but it would also benefit anyone I rent to, and anyone in the village.” An additional crossing to connect to the Valley Trail has been proposed near John McLeod’s commercial properties on West Main Street.
Wilmington Trails Committee Chair John Greene said a design and feasibility study had been completed on the Riverwalk project before it was “tabled” because of funding issues. “And the funding would still be formidable,” he said. “But I think it could be done in phases.”
Duncan noted that, although the bridge would be a major expense, it may not be as expensive as a highway bridge. “It’s just a footbridge, but something with some charm, something cool to look at.”
“If you’re applying for federal money, you can forget about anything cheap,” Greene warned. “With just the money spent on studies, you could build a bridge.”
Greene said the recent purchase of Haystack may be good news for supporters of the Valley Trail, which he said was a key part of the trail system. “That opens up an area we were having trouble getting (a right of way) through,” he said. “Completing the Valley Trail would put more pressure on the need for a Riverwalk.”
FEMA long-term recovery specialist Tom Rounds said the project could easily fit into the long-term recovery process under one of the program’s five categories, which include economic development, infrastructure, natural and cultural resources, health and social services, and community planning. If the project was included in the long-term recovery process, recovery specialists would help identify funding sources.
Selectboard chair Tom Consolino said the board would include the Riverwalk project in discussions. “Everything should be on the table,” he said, “not just to bring the town back, but to improve it. We’ll explore it.”
In a related discussion, town manager Paul Myers expressed frustration regarding deadlines for eligibility in the first round of federal hazard mitigation funding. Myers said that a separate letter of intent, including scoping information, for each proposed project, must be submitted by December 20.
Myers said the town would need either an extension of the due date, or help in producing the information. “We don’t have the resources to commit to 40 to 60 hours, nor do we have the expertise,” he said. “We need boots on the ground to sit down with me and make these grants happen within the time frame.”
Rounds acknowledged that the bureaucratic process was frustrating, but he said that, although the hazard mitigation program is funded by the federal government, Vermont Emergency Management was in charge of the process. He urged Myers to discuss the deadline with VEM’s hazard mitigation officer Ray Dougherty.
“I don’t mean to be a broken record,” Myers said, “but since I came on the job we’ve been talking and talking about these things, and we haven’t gotten anything off the ground. It’s extremely frustrating for us in Wilmington to sit here and nothing has been done in terms of what needs to be done. I cannot say now, given the resources the town of Wilmington has, that we’ll ever make these deadlines. And if we don’t make it, what the hell comes next?”
“There are 20 new people expected in Brattleboro for public assistance, I’ll see if we can tap into that,” Rounds said. “I’ll convey the town’s frustration with the process and lack of progress and report back to you; with progress, I hope.”
In other matters, the board officially received proposed amendments to two chapters of the town’s zoning bylaw from the planning commission: Article One, enactment and purpose; and Article Five, administration.
One of the changes to Article Five is the addition of a waiver provision, allowing the development review board to grant a waiver if certain criteria are met.
Planning commission chair Karen Grinold reminded the board that they have one year from the date of the planning commission’s last public hearing (May 17, 2011) to complete their adoption process. The selectboard will warn a public hearing on the amendments at a future meeting.