Right-of-way issues stall construction of bike paths

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Reluctant homeowners have thrown up an obstacle to bike path construction in Williston, according to a project manager working for the town.

David Spitz told the Selectboard on Feb. 7 that securing easements from some residents to accommodate new proposed paths in Williston has been nettlesome, particularly for routes planned alongside North Williston Road and Mountain View Road.

Voters approved a $2.6 million bond in March to fund the construction of four new bike paths. The town is currently targeting three of them. They are U.S. Route 2 from Brownell Road to Helena Drive, Mountain View Road from North Williston Road to Old Stage Road and North Williston Road from U.S. Route 2 to Mountain View Road.

Spitz was hired in the spring to shepherd the projects through the permit, easement and construction processes.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said public rights-of-way on Mountain View and North Williston are each significantly narrower than the right-of-way on U.S. Route 2. As a result, the town needs cooperation from property owners in some locations along those roads to build the envisioned 10-foot wide paths.

Spitz said Boyden and the committee that helped formulate plans for the paths were averse to narrowing them to 8 feet in places where property issues arose. Spitz said the bike paths in Stowe and Burlington are each 8 feet wide, but are now regarded as too narrow to accommodate a mix of recreational users. Boyden said bike paths less than 10 feet also pose maintenance issues.

The town could condemn the portion of property owners’ lands it needs for the paths or purchase the easements, but Boyden said both options are ones the town would prefer to avoid.

Boyden said the town might construct some stretches of the paths where it can receive the necessary easements.

Sewer expansion

Town Manager Rick McGuire reported the town negotiated an agreement to contribute $9,000 more to the wastewater treatment plant expansion project in Essex Junction.

The expansion was expected to be completed in the fall, but McGuire informed the Selectboard last month that the new capacity system had failed its operational tests. NECCO, a Waitsfield-based contractor, told the town the project would require an additional $30,000 investment to be finished.

NECCO and the engineering firm Dubois & King will share the additional $21,000 in costs. NECCO submitted a low bid of $717,777 last year and was selected for the expansion project.

McGuire said there were sufficient funds in the town’s budget for the project to include the additional $9,000.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said he did not believe Williston should have been required to shoulder any of the burden.

“I’m unhappy with that,” Fehrs said.

McGuire said last month the goal is to have the new sewer capacity of 200,000 gallons per day on line by July 1. The modifications to the expansion have already been completed, and testing is underway. The next step would be state certification, which takes about a month.

Bridge report

The Selectboard received an inspection report from the Vermont Agency of Transportation on the Industrial Avenue bridge.

The report characterizes the bridge as being in satisfactory to fair condition. It cites concerns with a crack that has formed on an abutment and says the guardrail approaches do not meet the current standards.

In a memo, Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the town would address the guardrail approaches in the spring and continue to monitor the abutment concerns.

Boyden said the bridge, which was built in 1964, has received significant maintenance over the past 10 years and belongs in the state’s bridge replacement program.

“This is a long and expensive process and I will get it started soon,” Boyden wrote.

Green buildings

Gary Hawley, a member of the Williston Conservation Commission, spoke to the Selectboard about adopting a policy on energy efficiency in new public buildings.

Hawley said the increased expenses of building “green” facilities would be more than offset by the reduced costs of operating the buildings.

Board members demonstrated interest in fashioning a policy and decided Hawley should work with Town Manager Rick McGuire and Town Planner Lee Nellis to draft a proposal.