Keeping the walls standing, one at a time

Monday July 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett has a plan on how the town should maintain the hundreds of retaining walls around town; just tackle them one at a time.

The latest wall that needs attention is on Washington Street and the Selectboard approved spending $37,000 from the current budget toward the project at an emergency meeting Friday morning.

The town recently learned that it had been awarded a $163,000 Vermont Agency of Transportation grant and Barrett says he wants to get the work done this construction season to prevent any further damage to the roadway and nearby property.

"We are afraid that if this is left it might get worse and the road could crack and fail," Barrett explained Thursday afternoon, as he pointed to the sloping sidewalk and cracked pavement above the failing wall. "If we get more water in there and another winter of freezing and thawing it won't be good."

DPW has been monitoring the dry stone wall on Washington Street for a while, Barrett said, just as DPW staff members have been watching dozens of walls across town that are slowly giving in to the slow and steady pull of gravity, erosion and time.

Barrett says there are hundreds, and possibly thousands of walls of various heights and weights across Brattleboro that were probably built more than 100 years ago.

They were built, Barrett explains, to withstand dirt roads that carried horses and buggies and not heavy asphalt with a steady stream of automobiles and trucks.

The town has a long list of wall projects, much more than DPW can ever get to in one year, and Barrett says his staff is closely watching some of those that seem to be slipping a little more aggressively than the others.

"There's one on Bonnyvale Road that is failing, and West Road. We're working on one on Strand Avenue right now," he said, to name just a few. "We always have more projects than we have funding."

Barrett told the Selectboard at the last meeting that he would be putting in an emergency request for state funding for the Washington Street wall, even though he said there was slim chance the town would get the money.

He was surprised, he said, that the state was able to turn around the grant request so quickly and so the Selectboard called the emergency meeting for Friday to move money out of the 2013 fiscal year surplus.

The board has to move the money from the surplus and into the Washington Street project before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

The AOT grant will cover a good portion of the estimated $200,000 project.

Barrett says he hopes to get a crew working on the wall as soon as possible to tackle the job which he says will take eight to 10 weeks.

During that time workers will take off the sidewalk and asphalt on Washington Street and then rebuild the stone wall below using interlocking concrete slabs.

The wall stands right above a backyard, which was filled Thursday with a playset, sand box and toy trucks.

Barrett said the job was relatively straightforward, though there are always hidden hazards and complications that could cause the wall to fail.

"We keep a close eye on all of them and we know the ones that are failing," he said. "It's just money and time. It's always a moving target."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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