by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – The Hardwick Select Board meeting on October 1 began almost 24 hours after the second vehicle-pedestrian accident to take place in Hardwick in nine months. The board heard from resident John Race, who witnessed the collision that left two pedestrians seriously injured Wednesday.
“We need some type of control through the village because there’s too many people have gotten hurt in this past year,” Race said. “[Drivers] don’t want to slow down, they don’t want to stop for nobody, somebody needs to do something.”
Last July, a pedestrian-vehicle collision in front of the Hardwick Village Restaurant also resulted in serious injury.
Select board Chair Eric Remick said the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Task force had discussed the situation but “I don’t think it’s something we’re going to solve overnight.” He said the problem is “structural” in nature and traffic safety enforcement is only part of the problem.
Board member Ceilidh Galloway-Kane said the board should make an effort to inform residents that the town task force has made recommendations.
The board appointed Michael Haveson to the Planning Commission, leaving two commission seats – one two-year seat and one three-year seat – unfilled. Haveson expressed his desire for Hardwick to “become a more pedestrian-friendly community.”
Layoffs in towns represented by Hardwick’s insurance carrier could potentially affect the town’s insurance costs, Town Manager Sean Fielder reported. Hardwick has not laid off any workers due to the pandemic, he said.
The board has yet to decide the fate of the now closed “swinging bridge” after a general conditions report prepared by DeWolfe Engineering recommended the bridge be replaced. Fielder said the Preservation Trust of Vermont suggested to him the town consult an engineering firm in Burlington for a second opinion. The Burlington firm has experience with historic bridges, Fielder said, and the Trust offered to have them review the DeWolfe report.
“There would be a little bit of grant support possible,” Fielder said. “It’s also about a full assessment of the [bridge’s] historic value.” The town has “not committed to anything,” Fielder said.
Board member Shari Cornish described the bridge as “a feature” of the town and said “it’s a big loss to downtown” that the bridge is not working. She suggested renaming the structure the “1915 Bridge” as a nod to its history.
Fielder said the town is working on ways to improve notification to residents in the event of a wastewater or water systems emergency. Also discussed was Hardwick’s water levels following last week’s news that East Hardwick Fire District’s springs were low. Some residents uphill of the village reported they were running out of water, Fielder said. The board discussed additional punch list items for the wastewater plant project from consulting engineers Aldrich+Elliott of Essex Junction.
Galloway-Kane said the recent water shortage for some residents on the East Hardwick water system was caused by lack of rain, and that “according to my East Hardwick sources,” the town has not been this dry since 1995.
Public Works Director Tom Fadden said of Hardwick’s water system, “if those two wells fail, we’re out of water.” He said a worker with the East Hardwick water system told him “the springs were keeping up with it” and that “folks on higher elevations” from the water system were the only ones impacted.
Fielder said Hardwick does not have a plan should its wells get too low. “We aren’t set up at this phase for a watering station,” he said. He added the Fire Department stopped filling people’s springs because “there’s a good possibility that whatever water gets added just gets sucked up, because it’s so dry.”
Remick suggested resuming last year’s preliminary explorations of old area springs no longer in use by the current water system.
Fadden said the “15 or 18 springs” in the network were in need of repair because the old pipes were “cut in several places.”
Fadden gave a brief road foreman’s report, stating some residents may have misunderstood the scope of current paving projects. Repaving has raised road surface levels above some residents’ driveways, he said, and road crews use enough material to bridge the difference in elevation. “We’re not paving people’s driveways,” he said.
Fadden said Hardwick’s state highway sections “are on the list” to be repaved “as soon as 2021-2022.” He directed residents to VTrans’ VTransparency website, which states that Class 1 paving in Hardwick on sections of VT-14 and VT-15 is to take place between October 2021 and December 2022.
On the matter of Pedestrian Safety Task Force recommendations, a new bike rack in town had been met with poor reviews by cyclists, according to people Cornish said she had spoken with. “I’ve been told by a couple of cyclists that the bike rack is not very useful, where it’s placed is bad and you can’t properly lock it,” she said.
Remick, an avid cyclist, agreed the current rack situation is “a little bit of a puzzle.” He said the racks could be improved on in the future.
Fielder said the town accepted recommendations to move the ADA-accessible parking space adjacent the Post Office. The space was cited by the task force for blocking sight lines for those exiting the facility parking lot. Fielder said the space will be moved “in the next two to four weeks.”
Fielder said no decision has been made on whether to proceed with the Wastewater Treatment Plant renewal. If the town proceeds, bond costs would apply only to residents using the wastewater system, not all taxpayers, he said. Consulting engineering firm Aldrich+Eliott provided Remick and the board with a bond estimate of $1.6 million for the renewal, and an additional estimated $470,000 for other maintenance items recommended by A&A during a tour of the plant.
Remick reminded the board that work performed under bond would qualify for 40% subsidies, but work performed outside the bond would not.
The board decided the new estimate raised additional questions for A+E and pushed the discussion to the next meeting, with an invitation to A+E to address the board.
With the first quarter of the fiscal year in the books, Business Manager Casey Rowell gave a brief review of the town’s budget. She reported that revenues are on track and “expenses are slightly under [budget] at 22%.” Rowell said the town was “doing pretty well” and is “mostly where we should be.”
Cornish said that while it was still too early to offer specifics, the Town House was in line to receive a significant grant that could be leveraged as matching funds for larger opportunities. She said the Town House’s most recent facilities condition report dated to 2005, and an updated assessment was needed to prioritize what work is most urgently needed.