By ANGELO LYNN
PROCTOR — In a surprise reversal, the Proctor selectboard approved a motion at its Monday, Dec. 12 meeting to halt continued planning on the Beaver Pond Path and directed Town Manager Michael Ramsey to seek forgiveness on about $93,000 the town has spent on the project since it was first conceived in 2018.
The turnabout came this past week after the town learned that OMYA’s management was not in favor of the path going on its property in downtown Proctor. The town had been pursuing right-of-way easements for the path with various town landowners over the past several weeks and held a meeting two weeks ago, with all the landowners present, to discuss any further issues the property abutters might have had. A representative from OMYA was at that meeting, but indicated he expected OMYA officials to be in agreement with the project as they had not spoken against it previously, but that he needed to present the proposal to the administration for approval.
With OMYA opposed to the current path, Selectboard Board Chair Judy Frazier said the town would likely have to scrap the current proposal and start anew if they wanted to keep the path alive — a prospect that no one on the board supported.
“Without OMYA’s support on the proposed path I just don’t see a way forward,” Frazier said. “I mean, this is a half-mile footpath that we’ve spent 4 years on and a lot of money,” adding, with obvious frustration, that the construction of the proposed $620,000 trail hadn’t even started.
With trails and pathways being built all over the state, she said, it was disappointing that the Beaver Pond Path had run into so many obstacles for so long.
The project was started three town managers ago and, she said, had never gotten written approval, or easements, from all of the landowners affected. That was a major mistake, she said. “The expectation of support was exaggerated, and it (the support) just might not have been realistic all along.”
Of the $117,180 spent so far on the planning and legal work (from a VTRANS grant), the town could be liable for up to $93,744, though there are potential clauses for forgiveness due to the fact that much of the planning phases was done during the height of the COVID pandemic and in-person meetings, and communication in general, was made more difficult. Ramsey, who came on board as town manager a little over a year ago, said he had been involved in many easement discussions in previous jobs but said this particular project has been plagued by problems almost from the get-go. While it’s a simple project in its objective, he said, it’s more complex to find a suitable path from the downtown to Beaver Pond than it first appears and there aren’t that many suitable options.
After a 15-minute discussion, selectman Ben Curtis made a motion, seconded by Bruce Baccei, to halt any further work on the project and directed Ramsey to try to recoup (or be forgiven) some or all of the grant money spent. The motion passed unanimously.
On another town-trails initiative, the selectboard also discussed easements it is seeking from property owners along VAST trails within the Proctor Town Forest. The town’s attorney is still reviewing the proposed trails and easements and will get back to the board at a later date. No action was taken on the issue.
The towns of West Rutland, Pittsford and Proctor are also partnering on a feasibility study for a connecting trail system between the three towns. The project would be administered through the transportations alternative program and “would be a fun project to manage,” Ramsey said.
CHICKENS ON THE LOOSE?
The selectboard discussed recent complaints of chickens getting loose from a Proctor resident’s home, as well as a pig, and reviewed the town’s animal control or other ordinances that might address the issue.
After a 10-minute discussion under new business, the board (which rarely takes action on new business items at its first meeting) said it would consider appropriate action at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 27. “At this time,” Ramsey wrote in a follow-up email, “I’m to seek guidance on whether a free-range chicken ordinance should be in the zoning bylaws or our existing animal ordinance, which only speaks towards dogs.” Ramsey advised the latter, but said he would be researching the best path forward.
In other business, the board:
• Reviewed its upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year budget and worked to get it down from an initial 8% increase to 7%, by trimming $2,000 from tree removal and $10K from paving — no change from its current level spending, but cut $10K that had been added to that line item.
• Noted that Proctor High School would be putting on its fall musical, Willy Wonka Jr., this coming Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16-17. (See calendar in today’s Reporter for details.)
• Noted that about 60 people came to the town’s annual tree lighting in the Village Green followed by refreshments and crafts at the library.
• Noted that Zion Growers plans to reapply for the VCDP grants to support a feasibility study at the Marble Company Campus that they now own, and that the town would support them.