New Community Development Coordinator Hired

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – Hardwick has hired a new community development coordinator. Geoff Sewake of Peacham, who owns a business in St. Johnsbury, will work remotely for now, Town Manager Shaun Fielder told the select board at the December 3 meeting. “Once we go back to normal operations, he’ll be working out of what was the Community Justice Center,” Fielder said. Sewake will work primarily on grants.

The board discussed the now-closed pedestrian bridge. Fielder said previous estimates for repair “might buy us a year or two” at a cost of $40,000-$60,000. Estimates for replacing the bridge range from $200,000-$300,000, but abutments could increase costs. Fielder said Sewake will work on grants in conjunction with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and emphasized the organization is interested in providing both financial and logistical support. Project timelines will be driven in part by grant deadlines, board member Shari Cornish said.

Cornish added the bridge might be eligible for other grants due to its critical role in the economic life of the village. Select board chair Eric Remick said, “I think [the bridge] is integral to downtown,” but admitted he “personally never found the bridge to be beautiful.”

Remick suggested replacing the bridge with a prefabricated model, arguing it “could be cheaper and it could be a nice bridge.” Cornish said “I don’t imagine we’ll get any historic support on that” suggestion.

Vice chair Elizabeth Dow said multiple bridges had been in that location over the years “but this was the one that worked.” She said the cost of the original bridge was $350 and Cornish said little had been spent on maintenance historically. “We just used [the bridge] up,” she said.

Remick said it would be a good idea to think about a “more formal” process to “get more community input” about the bridge.

The board signed off on the Clean Water State Revolving Fund planning loan application for the wastewater project. The board authorized Fielder to sign off on the engineering services agreement should it come back from the state before the next select board meeting.

Remick said the Yellow Barn had applied for a “very competitive” grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission which could help offset unexpected additional construction and other expenses caused in part by the impacts of COVID-19. Fielder noted that while some costs have soared, others, such as the price of steel, have gone down. Remick said the Vermont Community Loan Fund was “interested in filling in the final financing gap” for the project.

The board also heard news of a citizen interested in purchasing town-owned property in East Hardwick. Fielder said, “I hate to bring this up, but that’s River Street.” Hardwick acquired the property through probate in 2008, but circumstances surrounding the transaction were not clear, Fielder said. Board member Lucian Avery said he didn’t see how selling the property would be useful, and Remick replied, “I think it would be useful to the town because if someone else owned it they’d pay taxes.” Avery said that “not much” tax would be raised, but Dow noted, “Every little bit helps.” Board member Ceilidh Galloway-Kane asked if the property was used by the road crew for any sort of turnaround, and public works’ Tom Fadden said it was not. But in his role as fire chief, Fadden said the town has in the past used the property to pull water from the Lamoille River for firefighting. The board decided any sale would need to keep such use intact as a covenant. Fielder said he will clarify the provenance of the property and the board will consider the matter in the future.