Culvert looms large in Townshend

Friday March 1, 2013

TOWNSHEND -- A bigger budget, a new truck and a closer look at trash disposal are among the topics up for discussion at Townshend's Town Meeting on Tuesday.

Selectboard Chairwoman Hedy Harris said much of the town's budget growth can be attributed to a factor that is out of the board's control -- an ongoing dispute over federal reimbursement for a single culvert.

"What they've done to us is huge for a town like this," Harris said.

At issue is a Dam Road culvert that was rebuilt after Tropical Storm Irene struck in August 2011. Officials say the new structure is an upgraded culvert that was required by state Agency of Natural Resources standards.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has refused to fully reimburse Townshend for the culvert because it is different from the original design.

"This matter is being appealed for a second time -- this time by the Vermont attorney general as a test case for all the towns in Vermont that have been left in the same position," Selectboard members wrote in their annual report.

Harris said the lack of FEMA reimbursement has had a big impact on the town's fiscal 2014 budget, as Townshend is carrying $160,000 in debt for the culvert project.

The proposed budget is 13 percent larger than this year's. "If we get the money from FEMA for the culvert, it will only be a 3 percent increase," Harris said.

Though Vermont's deputy transportation secretary has said the culvert standard is "universally applied," FEMA is standing by its position that towns were not forced to follow new state rules when rebuilding after Irene.

"The reason FEMA has declined to pay the full cost of this particular culvert in Townshend and other upgraded structures is because FEMA has determined that the Agency of Natural Resources' Stream Alteration Permit system is discretionary and therefore not an eligible standard for reimbursement," FEMA spokesman David Mace said Thursday.

"Under federal regulations, FEMA will pay to upgrade infrastructure to meet codes and standards if they meet certain criteria," Mace said in an e-mail to the Reformer. "One of those criteria is that the code or standard not be discretionary. The code cannot be subject to discretionary enforcement by building or permitting officials."

So with no additional FEMA culvert cash arriving in the near future, Townshend officials are seeking approval for a $494,520 operational budget and an $837,651 highway budget.

Officials also are asking Town Meeting voters for other appropriations. The largest of those is $85,000 for a new highway department truck, with Harris saying the current truck is aging and increasingly difficult to maintain.

"Highway trucks take a real beating," Harris said.

"It's next up (for replacement) anyway," she added. "We have a replacement schedule that we're trying to stick to."

Another article details a much smaller expense but one that Harris believes is important: The Selectboard wants approval to spend $5,000 for the study of a new transfer station and recycling facility.

There are several issues related to town trash disposal. First, officials are considering how to handle a deteriorating compacting truck.

"We have a compacting truck that is now over 20 years old and falling apart," Harris said. "It's got serious problems."

Some want to replace the vehicle, though that could cost $180,000, Harris said.

"Some feel we would do much better with a different kind of compactor and a different arrangement," she said.

The town also might be able to expand its recycling options, which currently consist of three roll-off bins. But any significant changes require extra space that the town does not currently have.

"There's no room for expansion where we are, so we've got to look at other sites," Harris said.

The study will begin to address these issues, but Harris is not convinced that $5,000 will be enough to answer every question.

"None of this is clear, so it will take some engineering," she said.

The Town Meeting article "is partly just to open up the discourse," Harris said. "And I expect there will be more meetings about this."

Also up for a vote at Town Meeting are three Selectboard seats: Harris' term is expiring, as are the terms of Selectmen Jeff Russ and Chad Greenwood. The town does not vote by Australian ballot, so nominations will come from the floor.

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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