Whetstone Brook planning underway

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BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis says a study of the Whetstone Brook is meant to get people thinking about possibilities.

"The main idea here is that we, as a town and as a community, are conscious that most of the redevelopment that occurs in town or even the development that occurs in town pretty much depends on federal funding or federal support. We are also aware that following an executive order from the President last year, federal agencies are required to review how they allocate funds in light of climate change with the expectation that they will develop rules at the agency level clarifying under what circumstances they will invest in a special flood-hazard area or the flood plain," said Francis, pointing out that the area addressed in the local study is in that zone. "One of the purposes of this study is to actually try to find ways we can become more resilient to flood and also continue to capture federal support to blend with private money to redevelop the neighborhoods."

The town has the option to purchase a building to prevent future losses in flood events. The property could become an educational center, according to Francis, who shared a preliminary plan for the area during a Select Board meeting Tuesday.

Francis did not have cost estimates around taking some of the precautionary measurements. Ideas include regulating development in the area, conserving sections of land, containing flood water, and managing debris and sediment.

"There's a lot of work there," said board member John Allen.

"This is stunning. This is a team of over 20 people and it was less than two weeks," said Francis. "There's a practical question of how much this will cost and what's involved that will come later. It's more pertaining to encourage people to think about the neighborhood in a completely different way, which I understand it does."

In March 2015, the town was asked to participate in a federal Environmental Protection Agency Region 1 program. Through a successful application into the agency's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project, a study into a section of the Whetstone Brook was conducted. The program also provided a grant of $400,000 for the town's Brownfields Program, which offers funding for cleaning up contaminated sites or studies to see whether such remediation is necessary.

Besides the town's planning staff and Planning Commission, consultants and EPA employees are looking at the lower reaches of the brook. The location includes an area east of West and Williams streets, and lands adjacent from Canal Street to Flat and Frost streets.

From June 6 to 8, the team of professionals will meet in various focus groups at 118 Elliot Street. After a project overview and discussion, community groups will meet at 1 p.m. on the first day. Neighbors and business owners are scheduled to meet up at 3 p.m.

A public open house will be held at 6 p.m. at the Latchis Gallery 4 at 50 Main Street. Project goals, preliminary strategies and schematic designs will be presented. The idea is to start a conversation with the community about moving forward with projects.

A design team will have a working session at 9 a.m. then again at 1:30 p.m. at 118 Elliot Street on June 7. Implementation and funding will be addressed at 11:30 a.m. A progress update will be provided to the public at 4 p.m.

On the last day of the program, the design team will meet at 118 Elliot Street at 8:30 a.m. A steering committee review session is slated to begin at 9:30 a.m. with the design team meeting again after.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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