Thursday May 3, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- Rockingham’s economic development officer angered some audience members during a development office activity update on Tuesday evening when he mentioned how the final chunk of money from a federal grant will be spent.

Francis "Dutch" Walsh informed the town’s Selectboard that the remaining $1.3 million of a Federal Transit Authority bus and bus facilities grant will be expended on a park-and-ride off Exit 6. Citizens Catherine Bergmann and Jerry Humphrey voiced their discontent that the monies will not be put toward an intermodal transportation center at the Waypoint Center, which they say it was originally meant for.

"One point three million dollars for that? Are you kidding me?" Humphrey muttered from his seat. He and Bergmann have in the past explained their unhappiness that the money will be spent on anything other than the Waypoint Center.

After the April 24 meeting went into executive session, Humphrey said the intermodal center could be a great potential revenue generator as it would get more people to spend cash in the village. He and Bergmann, a former president of the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees, believe the money cannot legally be spent on the park-and-ride, as it was appropriated for the intermodal center.

Gary Fox, the director of Sustainable Valley Group, also disagreed with some of Walsh’s claims at the most recent meeting. In a telephone interview, Fox said Walsh’s statement about not being able to use the grant money for projects in Bellows Falls is untrue. Fox said the money was meant to be spent on multi-modal improvements in the village.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Walsh said the individuals that object to how the money -- which was secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy -- is planned to be used are not knowledgeable on the issue.

According to a spokesman in Leahy’s office, village officials followed the correct procedures to ensure it was appropriate to transfer funds that were once earmarked for the intermodal center to another project.

The spokesman said the money was appropriated about 10 years ago and that $4.6 million has been accumulated over the past five years for Bellows Falls transit improvements.

Leahy is the No. 2 of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a senior member of its transportation subcommittee, which writes the annual budget bill for all federal transportation.

Selectmen Stefan Golec asked Walsh at Tuesday’s meeting why so much money was being spent on a park-and-ride and why that same sum wasn’t being used for a similar project within the village as an investment in its economic development. Though the park-and-ride -- a facility with connections to public transportation that allows commuters to leave their vehicles in a safe spot and take a bus or commuter rail for the remainder of a trip somewhere -- has not been designed yet, it is expected to consist of 90 parking spaces.

Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen asked Golec where he would like 90 different vehicles to park in Bellows Falls and the board member said it would have be a smaller quantity, like 40 or 50. Golec added, though, that it would financially benefit the village because some tourists would choose to go shopping or buy a meal at a local business.

"Connecticut River Transit has agreed, once the park-and-ride is completed, to shuttle people not only from the train station but into the downtown square," Walsh said.

Disappointed by what they see as incompetence among members of the board, Bergmann and Humphrey are each running for a trustee position at the Annual Meeting set for Tuesday, May 15. They say the current members do not have the economic development in the village in mind.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.