“In general I feel that town property should be accessible,” Edwards said, “but it should be used appropriately. I’m not sure if this is a beneficial thing to do, but I wanted to discuss it in public.”
Board chair John LaFlamme cited potential liability problems for the town arising from activities such as the target shooting some have engaged in at the gravel bank or possible damage to the environmentally sensitive landfill site. LaFlamme and fellow selectboard member Lewis Sumner also expressed concern over theft and vandalism committed after hours. While the garage itself is locked when not in official use, some equipment and supplies must remain outside. LaFlamme said he has checked on the legal status of town property and found that it is “not public property” and that access may be restricted.
Earl Holtz asked if access to the sand pile would be available at all hours; otherwise, he said, “I can just slide down my driveway into the road.” Board members told him that the sand pile is outside the gated area in question; also, LaFlamme said, the board is considering moving the pile closer to the recycling bins.
“Other than sand,” declared town constable Andy Rice, “the public has no need to get at the town garage.”
“I’m just afraid of this getting converted to a criminal event,” Greg Marguet responded. Marguet said he thinks access should be allowed for off-road vehicles and for “citizens on foot” who wish to monitor road crew activities. Marguet mentioned an old access road to the now-closed landfill, but LaFlamme told him that it is “not a road,” but a 20-foot-wide right of way.
Road supervisor Bradley Rafus advised that a gate with “No trespassing” signage was put up in 2003 after vandals did $6,000 damage to equipment at the gravel bank.
The board passed a motion to post the landfill and gravel bank at all times, to post the garage after working hours, to add the phone number of the town office to the signs forbidding trespass; and to move the “citizens’ sand pile” closer to the recycling bins for easy and unambiguous access.
The board revisited the issue of damage done to a resident’s garage door by snow pushed into it during plowing. The board voted previously to pay for the damage, which totaled $1,100, but when LaFlamme researched the issue, he learned that the town is not liable after all. If the plow had actually come in contact with the door, the town would be responsible, but in this case the damage was the result of an action the town took to meet its legal obligation to clear the roads.
“I’d like to ask Mr. Kline to return the town’s money,” Edwards proposed diffidently. “You may go right ahead,” quipped LaFlamme. Edwards was unhappy about setting a potentially expensive precedent; LaFlamme was concerned that the town acknowledge its own error in paying the money. Ultimately the board voted to have town attorney Robert Fisher draft a letter to Kline explaining the legal situation, requesting repayment, and suggesting that Kline seek compensation through his home insurer.
Road and drainage issues again drew harsh comment from distressed citizens. “I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening on Stage Road,” said Marilyn Allen, citing extremely wide and deep ditches, damage to adjacent wetlands, and the destruction of a beaver dam. “Human development is bad for the environment,” responded LaFlamme, explaining that by “development” he meant road improvements. None of the Stage Road residents present agreed that this work was an improvement. One cited statements found on the Vermont state website that scenic and environmental considerations must be followed in all road projects.
“We all go to seminars and schools,” said Rafus, insisting, “That’s the way the state wants us to do flat-bottomed ditches.”
The concerned residents requested a site visit by the board. Edwards expressed a desire to inspect the site. After further discussion it was agreed that a visit would be scheduled and that representatives of the highway department and the state would be present. LaFlamme will post the date.
Marguet again brought up the vexed issue of the berm and sediment pool on Branch Road. LaFlamme said he has been told by the Agency of Natural Resources that “They do not put their directions in writing.” Holtz was astounded that the agency “doesn’t document their instructions.” After a somewhat heated exchange with LaFlamme, Holtz walked out, declaring, “I don’t need this conversation.”
Marguet again contended that the construction was never meant to be permanent. “They did design it to be permanent!” insisted LaFlamme. Rice told Marguet that he “did a criminal act” (altering the berm) and should be grateful the town is allowing him to repair it without further penalty.
During further back-and-forth, Rafus suggested that a second culvert would resolve the problem cited by Marguet. It would require a state permit, he said, and Marguet would have to pay for it. Despite that, Marguet agreed that it would take care of the drainage issue. LaFlamme will continue to try to reach the appropriate state official.
“I represent the red house at the (Halifax Center) crossroads,” said Martha MacAllister. MacAllister told the board that a two-foot-wide strip of lawn was removed by the road crew last year, and “This year they knocked down part of our stone wall. It’s a total mess! Are they planning to leave it like that?”
Rafus told Macallister that “the last two major rain events” had caused “problems on that road.” Rafus said the crew had done ditch work within the town right of way to prevent future problems and planned to lay gravel and do some reseeding in the affected area. “We didn’t touch the stone wall,” Rafus declared. Macallister conceded that the wall had collapsed after being undermined by the digging rather than being deliberately demolished.
In other business, the board voted to draft a letter thanking Joan Courser for her work organizing Old Home Days.
Rice asked whether a cable preventing vehicle access could be run across a class four road, citing town garage, gravel bank, to be posted concerns about partying and vandalism.
“No,” said LaFlamme, “the road must still be accessible to off-road vehicles.”