Bellows Falls engineering report due on Wednesday

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BELLOWS FALLS — A disputed engineering report will be available to the public on Feb. 3.

According to Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark, a report from Stevens and Associates in Brattleboro about the status of the ChemCo building in Bellows Falls is being finalized and will be delivered to him sometime on Wednesday. The engineering firm was tasked with an analysis of the vacant 57,000-foot facility, which Clark hopes to repurpose as the Liberty Mill Justice Center to house federal and state detainees and former prisoners who are transitioning out of incarceration.

Late last week, the public learned that Clark had received the engineering analysis from a third party, but Clark told the Reformer the document he received was a draft copy and as a working document, wasn't subject to the Vermont Open Records Law.

"I have been waiting on Stevens and Associates for a finalized report," he said. "When I have it, I will post it on our website."

Ellen Kreitmeier, an attorney from Westminster and a member of Rockingham For Progress, which describes itself as a group dedicated to continuing the economic and cultural renaissance of recent years, while preserving the unique history embodied by our heritage structures," told the Reformer she requested the document when she learned Clark had a copy of it. But now that she has learned it was only a working copy, she is awaiting the finalized document.

"We look forward to reading the completed document," said Kreitmeier, who said while she is opposed to the $23-million project, she is "open to the data."

"My concern is we should see the business plan. I am totally in support of restorative justice and reducing the prison population, but I am opposed to this project as presented."

Kreitmeier said that while she looks forward to reading the finalized report, she also hopes Clark will schedule more public forums to discuss the project, as he promised in December.

"We are excited about the democratic process and we welcome transparency from the government."

Clark said he has been transparent about his plans for Libery Mill, but he denied the request to see the working document because it didn't include all of the information he requested from Stevens and Associates.

"I am not releasing an incomplete report," he said.

Even though he is expected to release the report to the public on Feb. 3, the question of whether a working document is confidential is not moot, said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

"All records that are created by a public agency are subject to the public records law, though some have exemptions that allow them to be kept from the public. The draft document is in a gray area. We cannot find anything in the law that speaks specifically to draft documents."

Anyone who has been denied access to a draft document should be notified in writing by the agency, which must indicate what exemption they are relying on to deny release, said Condos. Someone requesting a document who has received a denial is free to appeal that judgement to a court of law, he added.

"Depending on the judge, a strict reading of the law might consider a draft document a public document," said Condos, but at this point, it's up to a judge or the Legislature to clarify the status of such a document.

To learn more about Rockingham For Progress, visit rockinghamforprogress.org.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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