Rockingham sets goals for town government

Officials discuss closed Vilas Bridge, recycling center

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BELLOWS FALLS — Town officials believe Rockingham should focus on its recycling center and the redevelopment of The Island.

That was the consensus among Select Board members and Town Manager Wendy Harrison after a discussion of long- and short-term goals.

"It's really important to establish a vision on The Island," Harrison said. She said there appeared to be a normal difference of opinion on what route to take since the demolition and cleanup of the old Robertson Paper Mill.

She said any potential developer will what to know what the town wants there before putting much thought and effort into any project.

The goals session for Harrison ranged from crafting a vision for the town to revamping the town's website.

"We really need a website overhaul," Harrison told the board. "We really need to do that."

Also mentioned more than once during the Tuesday evening discussion was the status of the closed Vilas Bridge, which crosses the Connecticut River and links North Walpole, N.H., to Bellows Falls. The New Hampshire Agency of Transportation closed the bridge 10 years ago because of structural problems. Rockingham and the village of Bellows Falls have been pushing hard to get the historic bridge reopened. But they've had little success in securing cooperation from their counterparts in New Hampshire.

Since the bridge's closure, downtown Bellows Falls businesses have complained that business traffic has dropped precipitously. But New Hampshire, which owns the bridge, has said it has higher priorities for its bridge money, especially since the New Arch Bridge, serving Bellows Falls and North Walpole, is a short distance upstream.

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Harrison said with next year's work on the New Arch Bridge requiring its partial closure, Walpole has since shifted its attention to the closed Vilas Bridge.

Two public meetings will be held early next month on the New Arch Bridge project: an Oct. 1 meeting will be held in Rockingham at 6 p.m., and a similar hearing Oct. 3 will be held in Walpole.

"Walpole wants to work with us on the Vilas Bridge," she said, noting that the initial goal was to get the bridge open for pedestrians, then open to vehicles.

Harrison said working on various issues at the town's recycling center and transfer station is also a priority. The town recently started charging residents of Westminster to use the recycling and transfer station, a decision that did not sit well with Westminster officials. The two sides are now wrangling over the tax bill of the center. At one time, the center was a joint effort.

The recycling center has been operating at a deficit, and as a result, town officials increased disposal costs earlier this year.

Harrison said she has "handed off" two other projects — the proposed new nuisance ordinance and a landlord-tenant organization — to other town officials.

She said an upcoming municipal visit to Rockingham by the Vermont Council on Rural Development later this fall and winter could be key to the town's future, and she said the public discussion during that visit may also set priorities for town government.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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