Fire and police departments help each other out all the time under established mutual-aid agreements, but no such system exists for road crews. Some in Rutland County want to change that.
“Historic ally, I think towns have always had a reciprocal, verbal working agreement between each other that any time assistance was needed for help in one town, other towns could come to assist,” said Jan Sotirakis, emergency management director for the town of Chittenden, in a Wednesday interview.
Sotirakis is supportive of an effort being undertaken by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission to create a system where towns can easily form mutual aid and shared service agreements for agencies other than fire departments, rescue squads and police. Involvement would strictly voluntary, and the agreements would make it clear who’s in charge, what gets done and how reimbursements are handled. Also, it would help with getting funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“What we have found as we worked through multiple disasters over the last decade is that FEMA really like you to have written mutual aid agreements in place before events actually occur,” said Sotirakis. “It takes out the confusion and just makes things much easier to understand.”
Mutual aid agreements are nothing new, but they’ve never included public works, she said. Not that towns don’t routinely lend each other a hand, there’s just never been anything formal about it.
“I think, for me, the strongest reason for doing it is the recognition that highway departments are really considered first responders during an emergency, particularly a weather event emergency where there’s flooding or road damage,” Sotirakis said. “We’ve not thought of them that way before, but I think we all realize that, yes, they’re sometimes the very first ones to be out there.”
Pittsford Town Manager John Haverstock told the Pittsford Select Board at its June 19 meeting that the Rutland Regional Planning Commission was working on this. There was little discussion at the meeting, as the plan is still being worked out. Haverstock said in a Wednesday interview that while he can’t speak for the Select Board, he finds the prospect interesting.
He said in the past Pittsford has lent equipment to neighboring towns that don’t have what they need, adding that many have long thought it would be more cost-effective for towns to share certain things, or pool their resources to get a cheaper, bulk rate on items like sand and salt.
Ed Bove, executive director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, said Wednesday there’s no issue with towns helping each other, it happens frequently, but there’s no formal process for it, which is a problem when it comes to getting money from FEMA after a flood. Towns derive all of their authority from the Legislature, so unless the state grants permission, towns can’t simply create these on their own. That’s where the regional planning commissions come in.
“We hired someone to come in and look at what would be the best way towns could loan out their crew to other towns and get reimbursed for it,” said Bove. “There’s a couple of different options, but one of them was something RPCs were allowed to do a few years ago that was put in statute was to kind of do this inter-municipal service agreement and serve as the lead or the administrator of a group of towns, it could be as few as two, that have formed this shared service agreement.”
Right now, the focus is on public works resources, but later towns might consider sharing resources such as zoning administrators and the like, Bove said.
He said the plan right now is to get the framework built then see what towns are interested. Bove said involvement is strictly voluntary — it’s entirely up to the individual towns if they want to enter into such an agreement. He said several have expressed interest.
“We know our neighboring towns would send help if we asked for it, this just creates a clear communication chain, an organization structure, and a reimbursement rate, so it’s all known beforehand,” Sotirakis said.
BRANDON — Now that it’s legal to grow hemp, the public has the chance to weigh in on what the rules should be, starting Thursday in Brandon.
The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets will host a public hearing between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the Brandon town offices.
Hemp and marijuana are two varieties of the same species, and for a time were regulated the same, making hemp largely illegal to cultivate. The 2018 Farm Bill changed the legal status of hemp, and it can now be cultivated, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That means the public gets to weigh in on how the new law is put in place.
“There’s been an end to prohibition for industrial hemp, which is related to a crop that doesn’t have a delta-9 THC concentration greater than 0.3 percent,” said Stephanie Smith, chief policy enforcement officer for the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, in a Wednesday interview. “It’s been deregistered from the control substances list.”
THC is the chemical mostly found in marijuana that creates the “high” effect when imbibed.
“People who live in states that have pilot programs approved by the USDA can cultivate hemp. They’re registered with whatever department or state agency is hosting that program, and they can cultivate it,” said Smith. “It’s a new crop.”
So far, comments on Vermont’s proposed rules have revolved around definitions of terms.
“Definitions are generally the most important part, in my opinion, of any rule, because everything else is based on definitions,” said Smith. “People are interested in getting it right, the public and the agency has an interest in getting it right, and that’s where most of the attention, at this point at least, is centered round.”
The public comment period ends July 5, Smith said
“We’re in the public input phase of the administrative rules process,” she said. “After that, the agency considers all the comments that they’ve received and does a response summary concerning those comments, then makes any necessary changes. The final rule then gets sent to the secretary of state’s Office and the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules for the final step.”
As of May 29, 570 people had registered to cultivate hemp in Vermont. There have been 168 people registered as hemp processors. About a third are the same people, Smith said.
The highest concentrations of registrants are in the Rutland-Addison County area and the Northeast Kingdom, which is why the public hearings are set in Brandon and Newport, Smith said.
She said there’ve been no studies done by her department on what impact growing hemp will have on the state’s economy, though it’s expected there will be some. Smith said now that growing hemp is an option for farmers, fields that were once left fallow may be used again.
The current draft for the new rules can be found online here: bit.ly/0627HempRules
The web page where public comments can be submitted can be found here: bit.ly/0627Rulemaking
Brandon’s town office is at 1 Conant Square. There will be another hearing Friday in Newport, same hours, at the Emory Hebard Office Building, 100 Main St., Newport.
Half a million dollars in grants will go to 14 Vermont farms to improve water and runoff infrastructure as part of the 2016 state Clean Water Act.
The grants will go toward everything from a new baler to upgrading manure storage, with the goal of keeping harmful phosphorus out of the state’s streams and lakes.
Pat Saltis, owner of Saltis Farm in Poultney, said he received $40,000 for a round bale wrapper, and plans to abandon his silage bunks for a silage baler to cut down on nutrient runoff from cow feed.
“It gets you into your required agriculture practices,” Saltis said. “My bunks are next to the road ... the idea was to stop using the bunk so they don’t leach out phosphorus and down the side of the road.”
If the farm didn’t appeal for a baler, Saltis said they would have to build new bunks, which would have been much more expensive.
“It’s a change for us, but it will be a learning experience,” Saltis said. “It’s easy on the cow, they like it, they do well on it ... It might help us survive, there are several benefits: me and you, kids in the brook, and fish.”
Saltis praised the state and members of the Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District for helping him find the grant and sort through the approval process for his 150 Holstein cows, 200-300 acres of hay and 40 acres of corn.
“This is about the agriculture department doing their part,” Saltis said.
The Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, part of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, made the awards in what is the second year of the program.
“The Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program’s Water Quality Grants are helping farms make lasting investments in environmental stewardship by reducing runoff and improving manure management, soil health and the long-term viability of these businesses,” Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets said in a release.
Among the list of fortunate farmers are Jill and Amerigo Balzano, of Walnut Hill Farm in Pawlet, who raise pastured, heritage pork, non-GMO grains and flowers. The farm received $20,000 for equipment to aid in storing manure and draining the barn, the release said.
Down the road, Seth Leach, of Woodlawn Holsteins, saw $25,000 in infrastructure grants for transitioning to a grass-based operation, the release said.
According to its social media page, Woodlawn Holsteins is a seventh generation dairy farm.
Next door in Wells, Cynthia and Rich Larson, of Larson Farm and Creamery, received $40,000 for a covered facility to store manure from its certified-organic A2A2 Jersey cows and horses.
The Larsons produce raw milk, pasteurized milk, yogurts, skyr and gelato.
David Seward received $40,000 for his farm in East Wallingford, where he’ll now be able to build a covered barnyard area for his 160 Holstein cows on his small-farm certified dairy operation.
“We’re still waiting for an engineer to show up to see if it’s feasible,” Seward said. “It’s still in the works.”
The fourth generation farm currently operates on 500 acres of farmland, and though they’re in compliance currently, a covered barn would ensure the water quality for surrounding waterways in the future.
The funds help optimize farms to minimize their total maximum daily loads of phosphorus, which end up in local waterways and cause harmful algal blooms, especially in Lake Champlain, according to Ryan Patch, Deputy Director of the Water Quality Division of the state’s Agency of Agriculture.
The standards and goals for agricultural pollution were set in accordance with Act 64, commonly known as Vermont’s Clean Water Act.
“Generally, these funds are leveraged eight to one,” said Ela Chapin, director of the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program. “$600,000 are allocated for the infrastructure grants, and $400,000 for retirement projects (for farmland best removed from agriculture).”
Of the projects proposed, anywhere between 40% and 70% of them are funded, Chapin said.
Though many of the farmers in the state benefiting from the grants are livestock and dairy part of the Best Management Practices Program, crop land practices, cover-cropping, no-till crop rotation and good nutrient management is also monitored with help from the $3.4 million budgeted at the state level for direct implementation on farms, Patch said.
Funding has even been provided for phosphorus removal technology, and as large farms are inspected every year and small and medium farms less frequently, fiscal year 2018 saw 118 “enforcement actions” by the Agency of Agriculture, 30 of which were violation notices costing a cumulative $60,000, according to a summary from the VAAFM.
As a part of the 20-year plan to gradually eliminate 213 metric tons of phosphorus runoff from waterways, Patch said agriculture needs to meet 143 of those reduced tons as agriculture runoff amounts to 41% of phosphorus found in Lake Champlain.
And with help from the state, Patch said they’re taking initiative.
“Farmers have really stepped up,” Patch said. “There’s a pricing crisis right now, but dairy is the largest agricultural sector in Vermont ... The level of implementation and engagement we’ve seen has really taken off. Very heartening for the future ... but there’s still a long way to go.”
More than 2 miles of city streets will get repaved this year, with varying degrees of work beneath the surface.
The Public Works Department released its summer paving schedule this week, listing 12,282 feet of city streets that would get attention during the construction season. Public Works Superintendent Jeffrey Wennberg said that plan attempts to balance addressing the city’s worst roads with trying to get the most value for the paving budget, but that it falls far short of addressing the city’s infrastructure needs.
“This map is what $530,000 buys,” Wennberg said, gesturing to a color-coded chart showing what sort of work is planned for which roads. “It’s pitiful. It doesn’t go far enough.”
A periodically updated chart shows roughly half the city’s 77 miles of roads needing resurfacing or more, but Wennberg said he has to work with what he has.
This year, he said that means addressing more than a mile of road segments in need of reclamation — digging down about 10 inches and replacing both the fill and the 3-inch surface.
“That’s where you use a giant Rototiller and grind it all up,” he said. “It’s basically a new road.”
These are scattered around the city. Wennberg said work had already started on Franklin Street, which was initially slated for less intensive repairs.
“When we dug test pits, it’s so bad we have to rebuild lots of it,” he said. “Franklin Street is horrific.”
Also on the reclaim list are Marble, Coolidge and Dana avenues — the loop behind the fairgrounds — as well as portions of Church, Philips and Granger streets.
A step down from that is a 2-inch mill-and-fill, which levels out the road but doesn’t go nearly as deep as a reclamation. A total of 3,559 feet of city roads — all on sections of East Street, River Street and Stratton Road — are slated for that treatment.
“The state’s going to do the (River Street) bridge, because that’s theirs, and we’re going to go from where they stop to Granger,” Wennberg said. “That’s the worst section of River Street.”
Wennberg said the simplest and cheapest resurface is the 1.5-inch overlay, which is planned for 1,896 feet of Grove Street.
Not included in the plan for this year are the couple of stretches of road — Maple Street, Robbins Street, a portion of Curtis Avenue — that need to be completely rebuilt.
“You dig down 3 feet and build it back up,” he said. “It costs a fortune. A bunch of our roads need that. If you can get away with reclamation, that’s a lot cheaper and a lot quicker than rebuilding.”
Wennberg said deciding which roads to pave is entirely within the purview of his office — not the mayor or the Board of Aldermen — and that the decisions have to balance roads that need it, what the city can afford and what roads are likely to get worse without prompt attention.
“Each time you go from a mill-and-fill to a reclaim, you go up (in cost) by a factor of 10,” he said. “If you let it deteriorate, the price goes up exponentially.”
It costs the city more in the long run, he said, to do a lesser repair on a road that needs a more extensive one.
“We don’t like putting good pavement on bad roads because it’s a waste,” he said. “If the road base is bad, in two years it’s all going to fall apart.”
While Wennberg has repeatedly discussed how the city’s paving budget is inadequate to even keep up with the rate of deterioration of city roads, he does not expect significant budget increases.
“You can’t get blood from a stone,” he said. “People are squeezed about as hard as they can handle.”
Wennberg said he tries to supplement the paving budgets with grants whenever he can, but that he often can’t. He said the city had been denied a state grant for work on Strongs Avenue four years in a row.
“We have an unusual number of Class Two roads, but we haven’t seen a grant since 2015,” he said. “We’ll try again next year.”
City voters have historically supported increases in the paving budget. Mayor David Allaire said he may not put more money in the budget, but that he intends to put something on the ballot.
“My hope is to ask the voters for a bond for both paving and sidewalks next March,” Allaire said. “In the next couple of months, I hope to sit down and put a plan together and have it ready by budget time.”
Allaire said he is beginning the process without a specific number in mind.
“My mindset it, let’s see what the need is first and then see what that’s going to translate into for cost to the taxpayers each year, and also how much we can get done because there is a manpower issue,” he said. “There are all these different pieces, but I do want to do something to catch up.”
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