by Doug McClure
WOLCOTT – At the October 6 meeting, the Wolcott Select Board received substantive updates on long-running work to address flooding issues at two sites and progress on the Wolcott Town Forest. After much discussion, the board also came up with a new schedule for fees at the transfer station that it hopes could change the trajectory of that facility’s finances and get it back in the black.
Principal Water Resource Engineer Roy Schiff from the Waterbury office of SLR Consulting presented the board with a 24-page PDF detailing where the floodplain restoration plan stands. He said that a USDA grant and a Clean Water Block Grant will fund the work, and deadlines are approaching. The current effort to mitigate flooding issues in Wolcott dates back to 2014, when the town was working with the Lamoille County Planning Commission to update its municipal plan, he said. With Hurricane Irene still fresh in the minds of town officials, it was deemed a priority to address flooding. Two sites were identified, one at the ball field off North Wolcott Road and the second at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife (VFW) access on Elmore Pond Road just off Route 15.
The ball field has flooded dramatically numerous times, with the Halloween 2019 storm leaving piles of huge logs and debris all over the parcel and the flooded Wild Branch taking North Wolcott Road out in several places. Schiff said the Wild Branch “wants to occupy the whole valley floor.” While the primary consideration is protecting the road and other infrastructure, a secondary consideration is restoring wetlands. Just upstream of the ball field, Schiff said a natural buffer was created in 2013 that this new plan must mesh with. The plan calls for creating and repairing flood chutes that would send water away from the road. One idea is creating a riparian forest and planting floodplain flora on the lot which, along with stabilizing the bank in front of the ball field, could address some flooding impacts. A more involved approach would see relocating the parking lot to the south of the ball field.
The fishing access on Elmore Pond Road has a different set of issues. VFW is working on habitat restoration and has planted some trees. The river is bordered by a berm on either side, which research suggested was exacerbating the flooding problems. Currently, the berms make the river run faster when it floods. The adjacent field is filled with invasive canary grass, so part of the plan would involve eliminating that and then replanting with native floodplain trees. Schiff cautioned the board to interpret phrases such as “ten-year flood” carefully, because flooding events of that scale are happening “every couple of years” at present. As with North Wolcott, the main focus of the floodplain work will be protecting infrastructure, specifically Route 15 and the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT). Removing the berms, or even just one side of them would allow the river to spread away from the highway and the LVRT. It is also a consideration that replacing the bridge with a different design could reduce flooding problems.
Kate Wanner of the Vermont Trust for Public Land spoke about the town forest project’s status. She said that the town should know imminently whether it is invited to apply for the Water Infrastructure Sponsorship Program (WISPr) and will likely find out in November if Burlington will be a sponsor. If those options do not work out, the fallback plan is to begin applying for federal grants as soon as January. Board chair Linda Martin said she had verified that the additional land would not impact the town’s insurance premiums as long as no structures were built. She said that in attending Vermont League of Cities and Towns webinars, the possibility of using Wolcott’s American Rescue Plan funds might be an option to consider. One criterion of how those funds can be used is improving outdoor recreational spaces. The school’s use of the property for outdoor classes could also be beneficial.
The board needed to warn a special town meeting about the town forest so voters could weigh in. All board members agreed to set a November 10 date for that meeting except for Kurt Billings, who opposed it without saying why. A resident said that they wanted to hear from their elected official his reason for opposing the motion, and Billings firmly said “I don’t have to state one.”
A subject of ongoing discussion has been the financial situation of the transfer station. Board member Richard Lee went line-by-line over the proposed rate changes. The majority of increases were on bulky waste items such as furniture, but the board did not expect that those would materially impact the current financial situation. Vice chair Kurt Klein said that the most impactful proposed change would be charging $1 for recycling, and instead of 30-gallon bags, changing the unit to 15-gallon bags or recycling bins. Billings said he had never seen a recycling bin. Klein noted that while the plan did not yet solve the issue of cardboard that is costing money, the $1 fee could make a major difference.
He said, “let’s see how that goes before we try to tackle cardboard.”
How to quantify the amount of cardboard was the most vexing problem with creating a rate for it. An unknown is whether the town could save money by trucking the cardboard to a Stowe facility with specialized equipment.
The special town meeting about the town forest is scheduled for November 10, at 6 p.m. at the Wolcott Elementary School.