JAMAICA -- Elaine Beckwith understands the need for a temporary bridge to carry Route 30 traffic past her Jamaica home.
And she also understands why, in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene's severe flooding, state Agency of Transportation officials needed to place that bridge on her property.
But Beckwith also claims VTrans has been a "nightmare" to deal with for the past 12 months, stonewalling her to the point that there still is no right-of-way agreement for a span that's been in place since last fall.
While she may finally be nearing a settlement, the experience has left Beckwith feeling frustrated and stressed.
"I'm not looking for sympathy," Beckwith said. "I would just like people to
VTrans spokesman Chris Cole, however, cited a "difference of opinion" and said the agency has worked with Beckwith extensively.
"We've actually been in contact with her for quite a while," Cole said.
Beckwith's 139-year-old home and art gallery sits at the juncture of Route 30 and Bald Mountain Brook. And that was a problem when Irene struck on the morning of Aug. 28, 2011.
Beckwith had just minutes to evacuate.
"I could see from the kitchen window that the water was just cresting the banks," she recalled.
Within 10 minutes, she said, "the water was halfway up into our side yard. It rose very, very quickly at that point."
With her husband Joel tending to his
The Beckwiths had lost a chunk of land, but their house was standing.
"Structurally, we were fine. We were very lucky," she said. "We had some stress cracks in the foundation."
The home's basement had flooded, but Beckwith since has learned that may not have been such a bad thing in light of the circumstances.
"I've been told that, if the basement hadn't flooded with water, the foundation likely would have collapsed," she said.
The partial collapse of the nearby Route 30 bridge may have spared the home further damage; Beckwith notes that, before the structure failed, debris and water had been building behind it.
As the Beckwiths tended to their property, state officials moved quickly to address damaged links in Vermont's transportation infrastructure. Of course, that included reopening heavily traveled Route 30.
Elaine Beckwith said she understood what that meant for her land.
"My husband and I have been extremely accommodating with the Agency of Transportation," she said. "We realized it was a difficult situation, and we wanted to do the right thing."
Cole took a similar approach.
"We understand and appreciate very much that their property was impacted by Irene and further impacted by the installation of the temporary bridge to restore access on Route 30," he said.
But that's where the niceties end.
Since the storm, VTrans "has been a nightmare to work with," Beckwith said. "I can't begin to tell you the difficulties we have dealt with."
She contends state officials often have acted without providing basic information.
"I got up one morning and literally saw survey stakes all over the yard," Beckwith said. "The stakes were in our leach field, on top of the septic -- it was a disaster waiting to happen."
Route 30 now curves to the left into what had been Beckwith's yard and passes close to her house, linking with a temporary bridge for which there still is no right-of-way agreement.
Beckwith worries about potential liability issues, but Cole said VTrans shouldn't be blamed for the lack of a legal contract.
"She doesn't have a right-of-way agreement because she doesn't agree with the price we offered her," Cole said. "We've offered them what we feel is just compensation."
Beckwith, while acknowledging financial factors, said the problem went much deeper than that. She contends the documents VTrans presented were "amateurish" and did not properly address or protect her rights as a property owner.
"It was a real boilerplate, one-size-fits all document," she said. "This was just not fair. We needed to take into consideration the complexities of this situation."
Beckwith eventually felt the need to hire an attorney and an engineer. But she claims that, at times, VTrans left her attorney out of the communication loop.
"The things that we have asked for have been the same things we were asking for three weeks after the storm," she said.
Also at issue is what happens next. Cole said VTrans is moving forward with building a new, permanent Route 30 bridge.
"We are going to go in and restore (the Beckwiths') property, to the extent we can, the way we found it," Cole said.
But Beckwith -- concerned about safety and loss of property value -- has been pushing for specific, written assurances of what will happen and when. Late last week, it appeared those efforts were paying off as Beckwith reported that the two sides were nearing an agreement.
"It's through the assistance of our attorney and our engineer," Beckwith said Friday. "And I want to give credit to Oliver Olsen, our state representative."
But she still is left feeling that dealing with bureaucracy has been more stressful than dealing with Mother Nature.
"All of the damage we incurred with the storm was the work of God," she said. "This was not."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.