by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – The November 5 meeting of the Hardwick Select Board featured a dense agenda that stretched the meeting to more than three-and-a-half hours. At times, the discussion grew tense; at one point a member of the community lay on the floor because she said she found the meeting “boring.” Community member Tracy Martin left abruptly after multiple failed attempts to elicit a response from the town attorney to a question about River St./Mill St. in East Hardwick.
The topic of the new AT&T tower revisited old information but aroused new conflicts among members.
Business Manager Casey Rowell began preliminary budget discussions. The effectiveness of the town’s usual process of projecting the following year’s budgets based on expenses in the current year was called into question due to abnormalities related to the COVID-19 shutdown. Along with changes in normal operations, and an unseasonably mild winter, COVID-19 deprived the state of a significant, expected road grant, which complicated road crew plans and finances.
Building maintenance issues were a looming issue. Chief Cochran said the roof is leaking in the Public Safety building and he found his desk covered in water one morning. A recent, routine check of the building’s furnaces turned up major problems in the new section of the building that will likely require replacing the furnace. The Memorial Building slate roof needs repairs estimated at approximately $25,000, with additional paintwork projected to cost another $6,000-$7,000. Also mentioned were weatherization recommendations from Efficiency Vermont. While the proposed budget reduced the allocation for the library due to its renovation, eliminated funds for the soon-to-be-demolished senior center, and cut budgeted amounts for Carey Road, as that work is almost completed, the combined decreases did not free up enough funds to cover the necessary repairs to facilities.
Some budgeted replacements of major equipment — such as the skid steer and one road crew truck, both of which have resulted in significant repair expenses — should save the town considerable amounts, Rowell said. A petition circulated among residents received 66 signatures urging select board action on the intersection of Glenside and Route 15, which the board discussed.
Usage of the new, flashing crosswalk signs was discussed at length.
Police Chief Aaron Cochran expressed his concerns over recently enacted S. 119, the police use of force legislation, which passed without Governor Phil Scott’s signature.
Chief Cochran said an officer was in training to be an instructor. He said that, unlike previous years, Vermont Fish and Wildlife no longer does certifications, so the department had to hire another police department for training. He made an appeal against S. 119.
“There needs to be a lot more discussion,” he said. As an example, he said chokeholds are now a felony even if the officer employs it in self-defense. “Law enforcement wasn’t given a seat at the table,” he said. When asked about his previous statement that Vermont police are not trained in the use of chokeholds, he responded that the department has updated its use-of-force policies.
Chief Cochran also issued a reminder that the parking ban goes into effect on November 15, though the department does not plan to act on the first violation. Likewise, the department is taking action to prevent people from parking on both sides of West Church Street and Highland Avenue, as he said doing so is dangerous.
Chief Cochran said an additional certification requirement from federal law enforcement was a surprise to the state agency in charge of such certifications. “They had no idea [the policies] were coming down, they have no process set up to certify yet and it’s required by January 2021,” he said.
Chief Cochran, a board member, and a resident raised concerns over a “lawnmower gang” seen driving riding mowers both in town and on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT). The topic was previously raised by select board member Shari Cornish, who referred to “lawnmower gangs” as Chair Remick described them, driving riding lawn mowers both in town and on the LVRT. A resident said the riders were carrying a case of beer.
Residents signed a petition to add a traffic light at the Glenside/Route-15 intersection. Town Manager Shaun Fielder had late-breaking developments as he managed to get in touch with VTrans. Complicating the issue was that the area in question is jointly controlled by both the town and state. As such, standards for whatever is done to calm traffic are strict. Fielder said that given the configuration of the intersection, a traffic light might not be advisable. He said VTrans suggested he first reach out to the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA). The agency also said that of the four reported crashes at the intersection in the past five years, none were found to be attributable to the Glenside and Route 15 intersection. Fielder said he contacted the NVDA’s Doug Morton to begin investigating whether adequate signage is in place. A sign previously there has gone missing, according to a resident in an e-mail to the town.
The two new crosswalks signs were originally planned to operate together, with one on each side of the street, so that a crosswalk button pressed on one side would trigger the other. Pairing two signs on the same side of the street and a wide distance apart did not make sense and has been disabled, Fielder said. “Everybody assumed we were getting two complete pairs [one on each side].” The two new signs cost $7,130.
Regarding Fielder’s question about expanding the number of signs and putting them as originally intended, one on each side, board member Lucien Avery said, “We don’t know if that’s actually going to solve the problem. It’d be good to try these [two] out [that way] and see if they work.” As noted by others in the meeting, quantifying whether the signs work is difficult.
Chief Cochran said a bigger issue was the obstruction of sight lines by cars parked directly on crosswalks, illegal under Vermont law. “The lights are great,” he said, “but people don’t see why they’re flashing [due to the sightlines].”
Fielder noted, “It’s tricky, each of these [crosswalks] gets used.”
Board member Shari Cornish pointed out the crosswalk between the Clip Joint and Village Laundromat, where two pedestrians were struck just weeks ago, was used by “the kids coming back from school.” As of this week, the town has relocated the sign in front of Yummy Wok to the other end of the crosswalk and now both signs light up when the button is pressed.