In response to the Reformer editorial "No crossing this bridge anytime soon" (Jan. 11), I would like to point out a few fallacious assumptions contained in the editorial. The fact that the Vilas Bridge will have been closed for the past five years this March is not one that the residents and business owners of Bellows Falls have taken lightly. It is unfortunate that the issue of safety and emergency services was not more strongly emphasized, rather than the loss of business and economic development for the community. The Reformer editorial board quips that the state of Vermont should be given an "A for effort" for another attempt to repair the Vilas Bridge. The state of Vermont is not looking for an "A for effort" in once again trying to reopen a bridge that the state of New Hampshire promised in a Memorandum of Agreement signed in 1994 to maintain. Lack of maintenance by the state of New Hampshire since 1994 brought this bridge to its closure in 2009.
Bill Boynton, spokesperson for NH DOT considers the Vilas Bridge "non-essential." Bill Boynton should sit on the "other viable option"; The Arch Bridge, for crossing the Connecticut River when a 100 car ethanol train brings traffic to a halt. Worse yet, he should be the first responder or firefighter trying to cross this "viable alternative" on his way to an emergency in Walpole or Bellows Falls. Or as we saw this past summer, a fire in Bellows Falls in which Mutual Aid was not able to reach a building fire in time.
And why, as the editorial board states in the Weekend Reformer editorial, should the state of Vermont offer to buy the Vilas Bridge from the state of New Hampshire? After all, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1933 that the appropriate border between New Hampshire and Vermont is the low water mark on the western side of the Connecticut River, excepting extreme droughts. As Commissioner Clement of the NH DOT stated in his letter to Rockingham Selectboard Chair Thomas MacPhee in 2012, "It is the location of the border, and no other factor, which must apportion the ownership of the Vilas Bridge. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a State holds control of interstate bridges up to the location of the State border. Accordingly, as ownership of a bridge is defined by the state border, the State of New Hampshire cannot relinquish ownership of any portion of the Vilas Bridge which runs east of the New Hampshire-Vermont border."
Is it not, therefore, a generous offer by the State of Vermont to work together with the State of New Hampshire to resolve a serious infrastructure problem facing both states?
The Saturday editorial says that we should sympathize with the New Hampshire taxpayers "who have already paid for a perfectly good bridge connecting the two states." This is not a matter of sympathizing with the Bellows Falls business owners who feel they are losing money due to lost traffic. The question should be, will the state of New Hampshire and editors of newspapers sympathize with the loss of buildings and life when emergency personnel cannot reach a disaster on either side of the river in time?
Francis Walsh is the development director of Rockingham. He writes from Chesterfield, N.H.