The Board of Aldermen told a local businessman it would not declare his property a “preferred site” for solar development and wouldn’t tell him why.
The board took no action Monday on the request from Charles Coughlin that the city sign a letter saying his property met a particular set of state criteria for a solar site, but did vote to have the Planning Commission include preferred sites for solar development in the next update to the city’s master plan. Coughlin owns the local McDonald’s restaurants and Central Vermont Motorcycles on West Street, behind which he plans to build the solar array. He plans to use net metering to have the array cover power at his businesses.
Phil Allen and Marlene Allen, of Same Sun of Vermont, who are developing the project for Coughlin, said the preferred site designation is meant to encourage solar development in places such as industrial properties rather than agricultural land. They said it has no bearing on the approval process, but does affect how much Coughlin would be paid for energy produced at the site.
At an earlier meeting, several aldermen expressed concern about the designation having some other effect on the project or property, something the Allens denied it could under state utility regulation.
Mayor David Allaire and Board President Sharon Davis noted Monday that they were not explicitly voting against signing the letter, though Allen said it renders the project ineligible for an incentive that would save Coughlin roughly $50,000 over a period of several years.
“Nothing is going to change about this array except you folks deciding it’s worth a penny more, which saves a business some money,” Allen said. “By saying ‘no’ to that, how does that support local business? An industrial site next to a wastewater treatment plant isn’t a preferred site?”
The board’s reasoning remained opaque because it was the result of a committee-level discussion with City Attorney Matt Bloomer that took place in executive session, and none of the board members who were present were willing to shed any light on the question.
“It’s killing us that we have to do this, but we’re thinking of the city,” said Alderman William Gillam, who said everyone on the committee who made the recommendation supports economic development. “We have other issues we have to deal with.”
Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis said the board’s position didn’t seem to line up with its usual support for local businesses — including earlier discussions in that very meeting.
“I feel like people’s nerves around the wording ‘preferred site’ is being nervous about a snake that turns out to be a piece of string,” she said.
Davis said that the issues discussed in executive session could not be discussed publicly by the full board, but they were “thoroughly vetted.”
The state is collecting information from municipalities to determine whether the state is eligible for federal disaster funding.
Mark Bosma, public information officer for the Vermont Emergency Management Agency (VEMA) said staff from his agency weren’t in the field Tuesday but had been in contact with the counties’ regional planning commissions to get a damage assessment.
There would have to be $1 million in damage for the state to apply for the emergency declaration, Bosma said.
He said town officials and property owners should report any damage to their regional planning commissions.
Bosma said he expected the state to know today whether it could apply for disaster funding.
Robert Haynes, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Burlington office, said Rutland County got about an inch of rainfall in the storm that caused many instances of flooding on Monday. Some areas of the county reported about 2 inches. Washington County saw a little less with almost 1 inch in most areas but up to about 1½ inches to 1¾ inches in some spots.
While there was no serious rainfall on Tuesday, the storm’s effects were still seen. The state reported around 6:45 a.m. Tuesday that Union Street and Pearl Street in Brandon were closed due to high water; around 7 a.m., that West Creek Road in Pittsford between Depot Road and the border of Proctor was closed because of flooding; and around noon flooding had closed Long Swamp Road in Brandon.
Gov. Phil Scott is scheduled to tour flood-damaged areas in Pittsfield today.
Some are still recovering from the flooding. Laura Conte, marketing director for the Mountain Top Inn and Resort in Chittenden, said employees did not lose access to the buildings and hadn’t closed because of the rain even though Conte said the town’s roadways were hit pretty hard.
“We did have some water that came through our event barn. We’re working with our contractors to clean up and assess at the moment,” she said.
Conte said the inn, which has been in business since the 1940s, had an event planned for this weekend, but staff members are working together in an “all hands on deck” manner to be sure they are ready to accommodate visitors.
“It was a bit of a surprise, that storm, in terms of the impact that it had,” Conte said.
According to Conor Lahiff, also a meteorologist in Burlington for the National Weather Service, the state doesn’t have to brace for an immediate repeat.
While “pretty insignificant rain” is expected tonight into Thursday morning, Lahiff said the next big rain event could be during the weekend.
“More significantly, there will be a system that leads into the weekend. We are talking Friday night through the Sunday time-frame. Given that’s several days out, it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly where the heaviest rainfall is going to occur … but somewhere across our area is likely to see a big dose of rain which will affect the swollen rivers, some of which did hit flood stage or flooded over in the last couple of days,” Lahiff said.
Because there were thunderstorms from Sunday into Monday, the rainfall was heavier than it might have been in Rutland County, he added.
Lahiff said the rain Vermont is experiencing is fairly typical for this time of year.
The rain will also mean mud. On Tuesday, a release from the Green Mountain Club, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and the Green Mountain National Forest asked Vermonters to respect trail closures and advisories during mud season.
“Even though it might feel warm and dry at your house, the trails at higher elevations are still very wet and vulnerable. It can take hours for a volunteer or trail crew to fix what takes just moments to damage by hiking on muddy trails. In between spring showers, we are all ready to hit the trails after a long, cold winter. Saving your mountain hikes until the trails are dry will ensure a better, longer hiking season for all,” said Jessica Savage, Forests, Parks and Recreation’s recreation program manager, in a statement.
KILLINGTON — A big change is coming to the face of Killington Mountain Resort & Ski Area, along with some other changes that will improve Pico Mountain Ski Resort.
Both ski areas are owned by POWDR, which has invested $60 million into the resorts in the past two years, according to Courtney DiFiore, communications and social media manager for Killington/Pico Ski Resort Partners, LLC. She said the planned upgrades slated for this season and next will total approximately another $30 million.
The main upgrade for Killington is to the base lodge, which will be completely rebuilt, said DiFiore. The K-1 Lodge was built in 1959.
Starting this construction season, the outer part of the K-1 lodge’s new footprint will be built. By 2022, the old lodge will be torn out and the new one completed. It will be three floors, the third being a bar area that looks down on the second floor. The building will have a more open feel to it, improving views, and will be level with the nearby gondola. This should help skiers, especially snowboarders, move around much more easily, DiFiore said.
A new four-person, fixed-grip chairlift will replace the existing North Ridge Triple chairlift, she said. Starting Tuesday, seats from the North Ridge Triple will be for sale in the mountain’s online store. DiFiore said when people learned it was being replaced, many wished to purchase seats from it. She said it’s an old lift and many people have nostalgic feelings toward it.
Another upgrade will be to the two mountains’ snowmaking systems. At Pico, the snowmaking system is fed by a pond, which can take some time to recharge after being spent, DiFiore said. While Killington can recover its snow cover fairly quickly following a bad weather event, it can take Pico much longer to do the same.
Michael Coppinger, executive director of the Killington Pico Area Association, the Killington area’s chamber of commerce, said Tuesday the new base lodge will be a huge change for the mountain.
“Not to be melodramatic, but that’s something that only happens once in a generation,” he said.
Coppinger said the mountain’s success has been felt in the community, with business owners, especially in the hospitality industry, investing money in their own operations to accommodate and compete for the expected visitors.
This past season, Killington hosted the World Cup for the third time and is expected to do so again. It also hosted the Special Olympics Winter Games.
Coppinger reported that POWDR has said in the past it plans to invest in Killington and Pico, and so far appears to be following through. He credited the mountain’s leadership team, which he said has a working knowledge of the ski industry and the local community. He said the resorts’ efforts to be all-season destinations have also been paying off with growth in the local cycling industry.
A streetscape project on West Street got the extra money it needed after a protracted argument at the Board of Aldermen meeting Monday.
The board ultimately voted to use $30,000 from the Zamias fund to close a funding gap in the project, which will install bump-outs in the area of Cottage Street and Court Square. The project came up short when bids came in over the initial estimate — $110,000 and $80,000, respectively — and Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy asked the city to cover the difference.
Bump-outs are also known as sidewalk extensions or “pedestrian peninsulas.”
Alderman Chris Ettori said the project failed the test he likes to apply to requests for money from the Zamias fund, which was created with impact fees paid to the city by the owners of Diamond Run Mall and had begun to dwindle in recent years. Duffy said with certain expenditures having been paid back into the fund, the balance was $130,000 and the city is expecting a balloon payment of roughly $500,000 in 2020 — though the mall can break that up into annual payments of $100,000.
“If this is the last $30,000, is this the highest and best use for that money?” Ettori asked. “I would argue that it isn’t. ... People don’t generally cross there to get into downtown. It’s a bit high up.”
Ettori said that while he supports the bumpout at Cottage Street, he thinks the more easterly one is unnecessary and risks impeding traffic. He said the city could find numerous uses for $30,000 that would be of greater benefit to downtown.
“We need to be in charge of the Zamias fund and use it wisely for projects,” he said. “It is not just a catch-all for when we don’t have the money for something.”
Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis backed Ettori, saying that she generally supports pedestrian safety projects but questions how much safer the bump-out would make crossing a multi-lane road. Also, she said she would like to see some of the project’s other backers — organizations including the RRA, the Downtown Rutland Partnership and Rutland Blooms contributed to the largely grant-funded project — stepping up to help cover the $30,000.
“I don’t think it’s our responsibility to use Zamias funds to fill this hole,” she said.
Further dissent came from Alderwoman Lisa Ryan, who said she asked for evidence that bump-outs improved traffic safety but had not received any. Alderman Thomas DePoy said he was uncomfortable dipping into reserve funds for a project like this when so many city roads desperately need repaving. He also questioned the positioning of the eastern bump-out, and he preferred to spend Zamias money to more directly benefit downtown businesses.
“I just don’t see using Zamias money for street projects,” DePoy said. “I just don’t think bump-outs on West Street do anything for downtown businesses.”
DePoy said anyone seeking to cross West Street at Court Square would be better served going the rest of the way up the hill and crossing between Five Guys and Main Street Park.
“It’s a good crossing,” he said. “It’s one of the best crossings in the city.”
Alderman Matt Whitcomb told Ryan he found a study of a similar project in Oregon saying bump-outs reduced the number of vehicles that went by a waiting pedestrian without yielding. Alderman William Gillam repeatedly argued in favor of the project, saying it was a longstanding feature of the city’s gateway improvement plan.
“This is not a new thing,” he said. “We’ve been at this for 20 years.”
Mayor David Allaire, who described himself as a “frequent pedestrian,” said the increase of activity in Main Street Park was creating tremendous pedestrian traffic and that other bump-outs in the city were placed amid worries about traffic difficulties that never materialized.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on people’s safety,” he said.
Ultimately, Ettori, DePoy and Ryan voted no while the remainder of the board voted “yes,” with the exception of absent Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey.
“We will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautifully. We can do it, and once again, we will mobilize (to do so).”
French President Emmanuel Macron. — B4
Among Democratic party candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads in fundraising with $18 million committed so far. A2
On one night only, the Dance Program offers samples of faculty choreography. $15 Public/$12 Middlebury College ID holders/$8 Youth/$6 Middlebury students, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Mahaney Center for the Arts, 72 Porter Field Road, Middlebury, 443-3168.