Kids, Cops & Dogs: NPD brings Canine Unit to Bridges Summer Camp.

About two dozen Northfield students in the Bridges Summer Camp watched K9 Huey and his partner-handler, Sgt. Dodge from the Barre Town Police Department.  K9 Huey is trained to find missing persons, track criminals, sniff out illegal drugs, and protect his partner when necessary.  Huey his own web page and is one of only  a small group of K9s in Vermont.  Huey and Sgt. Dodge attended the Bridges Summer program by invitation from Officer Dan Withrow from the Northfield Police Department.  kids_cops_dogs 2.pngOfficer Dan,  a Vermont Police Academy Gaiotti Award recipient, holds a BA in History from Norwich University and served as Deputy Sheriff prior to his placement on the NPD in 2013.  Earlier this year he approached staff at the Bridges Afterschool Program with a proposal to hold a one-week Junior Police Academy.

I’ll let Officer Dan explain in his own words:

Huey’s appearance was one component in the week-long session.  Officer Dan arranged multiple learning opportunities for students junior-cadets.  Bridges Program students learned about firearm safety, civil rights, control-and-restraint maneuvers, fingerprint dusting, and other enforcement practices.  Students also participated  in mock traffic stops, wore “drunk goggles” to learn about driving under the influence, and watched the Northfield Emergency Services conduct an auto-vehicle extraction using the “jaws of life”

Tuesday Night: Farmer’s Market, East St., and Frieghtyard Way.

Six weeks ago I promised ice cream in the post, “EcDev:  What’s new behind the scenes!”  Well, it’s time for ice cream!  But first, a few really intriguing questions:

What if there were walk-in shops on both sides of the East Street Block? 

East St   Google Maps
Current view of East Street Block, South SideWhat if someone built a across the Dog River?

What if someone built a 4-story micro-apartment complex on Freightyard Way, overlooking the proposed Water Street Park across the Dog River?

IMG_2109

What if Northfield’s downtown housed more people who could support local businesses without the need to create more parking spaces?  What if we had a bigger tax base without having to clear forests or parcel out farmland along our dirt roads?

And finally, what if someone asked you to share what you think about all this?

Well, on Tuesday you can share your thoughts and think more deeply about opportunities for Northfield’s future and economic recovery.  The Northfield Community Development Network (NCDN) is hosting “Night on the Common” in partnership with the Planning Commission and Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission.

As you may know, the Farmer’s Market runs from 3-6pm, so there will be plenty of time to socialize and buy local.

From 6-7pm there will be a presentation by consultants who have drafted a conceptual plan regarding economic development on Freightyard Way and the East Street Block — two prime locations in Northfield’s downtown.  Their purpose:  to find out what you think!

You can also provide input on the NCDN’s proposed brand for Northfield at one table under the tent.  Advocates for the proposed Water Street Park will also be present at a table of their own.  And of course, there will be ice cream!

So take a break from the usual routine and come on down to the Farmer’s Market this week (July 19th)!  Share your input on Northfield’s economic development and future developments. East Street Block.

You probably know the East Street Block from NSB to the Dog River.  If you don’t happen to know the Freightyard Way area, here’s a picture slideshow.  It’s probably one of the easiest places to build new structures, with power, water, and sewer all set to go.   And lots of space in the back next to the scenic Dog River.

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Zen & the Art of Highway Maintenance

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Union Brook Rd   Google MapsGrass growing up through the cracks.  Oddly shaped quick-fix patches.  $2.1 million in repaving work and only $82k in the highway budget.  

It’s going to take a lot of Zen meditation to come to terms with the conflicts between (1) roads and nature and (2) societal needs and municipal costs.

The first conflict — road vs. nature — can be found across much of northern New England, primarily in the relationship between deep winter frost and temporary pave-over solutions.

Many of Vermont’s roads weren’t planned or constructed to today’s standards.  Gravel roads, some of which may be in excess of 125 years old, were paved without considering the need to create a frost-resistant sub-surface base.

As a result — both on the local and state level — there are many roads where we simply pave over problems — and these problems will continue until roads are completely dug up and built to today’s drainage standards.  Until then, we’re stuck with inevitable cracks, bumps, and holes.  Unless we come up with creative solutions.

For example, what if instead of paving, we use heavy duty, interlocking porous pavers on roads with posted speed limits of 35mph or less?  Would it work?  Who knows?  Maybe Northfield could create a pilot project with help from the Agency of Transportation.  The point is, we need to be creative.  Throwing money at a pave-over solution with a lifespan of ten years or so is less than ideal.   TRUCKGRID MAX   Permeable Paving   Trucks  HGV s  Forklifts  Bus  Coaches  Cars

The second conflict — need vs. cost — boils down to a cost/benefit equation.  Frankly, we need to think about how many people  are served for each mile of road in order to analyze the costs and benefits.  We also need to think of roads in context to the way we want Northfield to develop in the future.  Zen and the Art of Highway Maintenance.png

This leads to the Zen of highway maintenance.   The question we need to ask in regard to Northfield’s transportation needs is, “What does transportation look like over the next 30 or so years, as vs. present needs?”  This is as much of a demographic and land-use question as it is about roads.

For example, if we want more one-family homes on subdivided lots then we need to put more money into road maintenance.  Rural sprawl has been the primary residential growth pattern in Vermont for decades.  It has led to the construction of more roads but with less traffic per mile than in other locations.  Economic inefficiency in highway maintenance is a direct outcome of rural sprawl.

Rural Sprawl
Rural Sprawl Development

But looking to the future we need to ask, how does the Millennial Generation want to live?  If we want to grow Northfield’s tax base, we need to think about attracting new residents who may then support more businesses.  In order to attract new residents, we need to think about the type of residential life they prefer.  And then we need to invest in infrastructure which supports these types of residential developments.

This means thinking about Millennials who want to live differently than Boomers.  From the 1960s through the 1990s, rural lifestyle meant having a house in the woods with plenty of trees between neighbors.  But as the latest generation comes of age, we’re seeing a different pattern — Millennials prefer downtowns and neighborhoods.

Report  To Attract More Millennials  Vermont Must Improve Transportation Services   Vermont Public Radio
VPR:  To Attract More Millennials, Vermont Must Improve Transportation Services.

If Northfield needs growth, we need to accommodate the preferences of those who may choose to live here.  For Millennials, this may mean dense housing with adequate amenities — like high-speed internet, an exercise facility, and maybe even group spaces.  This type of housing development contributes very little, if anything, to the cost of road maintenance.

But let’s assume for the moment that we need to focus on simply maintaining the roads falling into disrepair.  What can we do about it?

Well, there’s an answer to this question — and it’s pragmatic, not Zen-metaphysical.

The Better Roads program  provides planning assistance and grants which can help Northfield come up with a comprehensive approach to highway maintenance.  Ideally, we could create a GIS map identifying problem areas, as well as a thorough inventory of culverts and potential areas of stream-side erosion.  Northfield has been working with the State in other planning areas, including a Town Forest inventory assessment, the Downtown Action Team report, and the Area Wide Plan (currently underway).  It would make sense to add a transportation component to complement other comprehensive reports.

Another benefit from a comprehensive highway maintenance plan would be to improve education about best practices.  For example, recent work on Stony Brook Road doesn’t comply with state requirements.  Stormwater is supposed to flow away from roads into ditches which reduce erosion and runoff.  As you can see from the pictures below, sections of road shoulders here may get ripped out during a summer downpour.  Work that has already been done may need to be re-done later this season.  Click on a picture to see full size.

If we apply for a grant from the Better Roads program, we’ll have a comprehensive plan, a better-educated road crew and as a result, lower costs in road maintenance.

It doesn’t take much Zen meditation to apply for a grant.  The 2017 funding cycle is closed, so we’re going to have to wait.  But maybe we’ll get there.  In the meantime we might consider the problem of repaving over problems that won’t go away.

A local alternative newspaper?

If I’ve learned anything from my work on NatesUpdates.com, it’s that there’s demand for local information which seems to not be covered elsewhere.  This has led me to wonder if it’s time to broaden the scope of local online news and information.  Maybe you’ve been thinking about this too.  If so, take the two-question poll here:  https://surveynuts.com/surveys/take?id=101599&c=1478875061TPTV

…and please send me a note!

First, let’s establish readership on NatesUpdates as a barometer of interest in alternative news and insights.  If NatesUpdates can draw a crowd, it makes sense that more writers could draw more of a crowd.  

So what kind of crowd can one person draw?  Well, here are the NatesUpdates.com stats for the first 21 posts over a period of four months — including one month when I didn’t write anything:

Stats — WordPress.com

In the world of one-person startup blogs, these are pretty good numbers.  And none of this could have been done without you.  Consider yourself part of a movement among those who appreciate local news in a  21st-century medium.

But back to the question:  “Is it time for a local alternative newspaper?”

NatesUpdates.com is great, but wouldn’t  it be better to have a news source a little bit bigger than a one-man blog?    Something like a Vermont Digger, but just for the greater Northfield area?  More contributors?  More points of view?  More information?

You might ask, “Is there really enough going on to justify an alt-paper?”

Believe, me, there is.  I’ve been asked to write on more subjects than I could possibly cover.  And frankly, these are things  readers would appreciate.  For examples:

  • How can a local business get 25 customers on a Thursday night?
  • Did you know the Northfield Middle/High School has ranked in Vermont’s Top 10 schools according to US News & World Report — three years in a row?
  • What are the best hiking trails in the area?  What does the view look like from the top of Scragg Mountain?
  • Did you know there’s a new connection between Northfield and TriBeCa’s The Flea Theater?  Yea, that’s a super interesting story I can’t wait to get to.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg topics.  There are lots of stories to tell!  There are pictures and videos to share, surveys to take, and maps to show us where to go.  You’ve seen it all here, all created by one guy with not enough time on his hands.

So let’s put the ball in your court.

If you’re a reader, what do you think about supporting an alternative news source?  What if you could ask for a specific topic to be covered?

If you’re a business owner, what do you think about powerful, alternative promotional opportunities, like video, lots of photos, and an awesome story?

If you  write or have a camera, what do you think about a new venue to share your creativity?  What if an alternative paper could generate revenue so you could get paid for your work?

If you have publishing experience, what do you think about taking the reins of something really fun and awesome for our community?

And please, don’t be shy.  This is your community.  You contribute.  Your ideas, thoughts and feelings matter. You care about Northfield and you’ve come to realize it’s time to join a larger effort to share in our important, day-to-day stories.

On my end of the equation, I’ll keep writing, knowing there’s a bigger picture about local goings-on than my personal views.  My professional goal isn’t to write a vanity blog.  I just want something more for Northfield — something we can get excited about.  

So send me a note and click here to answer two simple questions:  https://surveynuts.com/surveys/take?id=101599&c=1478875061TPTV

Let’s talk — alternative news can bring a breath of fresh air to Northfield.  What do you think?

in5d-news

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a job? Leslie Knope wants you!

The short story:  Northfield is hiring a part-time Zoning Administrator.  If you have a Bachelor’s degree in planning, environmental studies, geography or similar experience, you may want to take a look at the job description.

Zoning_Administrator Parks and Rec show
PARKS AND RECREATION — Pictured: (l-r) Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson — NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth.  Source:  IMDB

 

Comparatively, the Zoning Administrator is the small town equivalent to a city planner.  The position may sound like a boring snooze, but in fact, it’s one of the Town’s more important positions when we think about potential growth and vitality.  If you’re a fan of Amy Poehler’s Parks & Recreation, you’ll recall that the first person Leslie Knope turned to, on her mission to transform a construction pit into a neighborhood park, was Pawnee’s city planner, Mark Brendanawicz.

In the non-television world, Northfield was very fortunate to have had Michele Braun as our former ZA.  Michele started the position with a strong interest to learn — and left as an expert.  Among her many legacies is the ongoing work toward a future Dog River Park along Water Street.

Northfield has been without a ZA ever since Michele’s departure.  This isn’t good news at a time when the Town has an excellent plan to implement and new planning work on the development of two downtown properties.  At the present time, the Town Manager has assumed the responsibilities of the ZA.  But what we really need is a dedicated staff member to pick up the day-to-day tasks while assisting the Town in the planning process.

The ZA works with colleagues on the state and regional level in addition to the Town.  Michele even worked directly with FEMA and, after Irene, became a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) in the aftermath of destruction from Tropical Storm Irene.  Turns out, zoning isn’t a snooze.  It’s a specialized professional position requiring at least four years of higher education and, in cities, a Master’s Degree.

So read the job description and if you feel you qualify, send your cover letter and resume to jschulz@northfield.vt.us.  Or pass along the information to a colleague or friend who may have the qualifications listed below.

Zoning_Administrator_JD.pdf.png

Trees & Roads meeting notes & Thanks

IMG_1976Last night (June 28th) about 30 or so people attended the Selectboard meeting to discuss the subject of roadside tree removal.  The questions and concerns were well-informed.  Over the course of three meetings in three weeks’s time, the Board had the opportunity to listen, learn and self-educate on the issue.  Speaking for myself, this has been an enjoyable process which has raised intriguing questions and previously unknown opportunities.

Special thanks to all of the folks who stood at the podium last night.  For everyone’s reference, I’m posting the notes I took during the meeting.

Another thing:  you folks made a difference.  I’m proud of you.  You should be proud of yourselves, too.  The outcome of your work is a detailed draft contract and a thoughtful approach to a comprehensive project.
Community RoomI also want to thank Board Chair, Dave Maxwell for excellent leadership, thoughtfulness, and professionalism over the last three weeks.  As the newest member of the board, I’m learning the differences between policy, governance, and management.  Sometimes, after a stressful moment, Dave might share a bit of advice in a-wise-old-man-once-told-me story.  Thanks, Dave!

Here are my notes from last night’s meeting.  Please keep in mind I was typing while listening, so don’t expect polished writing.

    1. Nathaniel Miller:  Appreciates first dibs on timber.  Question of cost-shift to property owner.  Opportunity to negotiate with Town and/or tree removal contractor.
    2. Mel Adams:   Doesn’t want to see clear-cut.  Approves isolated, select cutting.  Can’t see how removal in some areas with stumps remaining will maintain scenic quality.  His support depends on whether on how we manage project.  Specific instructions and guidelines should be in contract.
    3. Kyle Daniels:  Approves selective cutting, but is concerned that only one contractor has been contacted.  Shouldn’t there be a Request For Proposal?  Traffic control is direct cost to Town.  Can we get a better deal?  Can the Town make money on the deal?  Suggests offering a test area.  Will contract be reviewed by an attorney?
      1. Russ Barrett adds the possibility of a 3-way contract including property owners
    4. Rodney Elmer:  Does Town have a budget for roadside clearing?  He referenced potential for natural disasters.  Mentions age of tree stock.  What about noise?  Are trees too big to grind?  Where is chipper located?  Logistically, this is a tremendous job.  He and others estimate there may be as much as 500 cords per mile in some areas.  Tremendous profit to be made on the part of the contractor.  Concerned about bare dirt, erosion, etc.  There’s no question works need to be done:  68 trees hit by snow plow on his section of road.  Problem of tree cuts along roads, young trees will reach to road to get access to more light.
    5. Conrad “Conny” Motyka:  Owns 1/2 mile of frontage on Loop Road.  Trent Tucker came to his house and talked to him about the project.  Connie has been a forester since 1962.  He has some concerns in a number of ways.  1.  Historic roads weren’t designed well; trees have acted as good guardrails where there’s a steep bank.  2.  Trees hold historic roads together on downhill embankments.  3.  Trees removal on uphill side may cause erosion.  Trees may be doing the Town a service in some places.  Suggests plow truck drivers should drive more slowly and carefully.  4. Also says he owns trees and has paid taxes on them.  He wants profits from the loss of his trees.
    6. Frank Pecora:  Turkey Hill.  He asks who is deciding what trees are going to get cut.  He wonders if he objects to a specific tree would the Town respect that; if the Warden & Road Foreman say it’s unsafe, and he doesn’t agree, who has final authority?
    7. Melinda Appel:  Winch Hill Rd.  Road trimming on her property has been very aggressive.  Culvert was struck last year.  Her property was cut more aggressively than on her neighbor’s property.
    8. Kyle Daniels & Mel Adams ask who is going to determine the center of roads and measurement of right of way.  Roads shift within original 3-rod corridor over time.
    9. Joe Zuaro:   Opportunity to save money; wants to be careful about it.  Want it done right.
    10. Therese Elmer:  What is total mileage of project?  This year?  Multiple years?  What happens if Limlaw chooses to not accept terms of new contract?  What about the cost to the Town of traffic control.  All land owners should have a chance to look at contract.
    11. Trish Coppolino:  Concerned about stream erosion.  Need to follow state policies.  Road was widened in front of her property 4 weeks ago without erosion control.
    12. Mary McCain:  Rural heritage sites?  Stony brook bridge & swimming hole area.  Aesthetics & beauty.
    13. Kyle Daniels:  Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?  Should we have a management plan?
      1. My response:  the State has a new Municipal Roads Program.  I described three step process.  Discuss the benefits of a comprehensive plan in general.
    14. Therese Elmer:  Follows up on question about why Town has to pay to clean up, replant and reseed area; pay for erosion control.
    15. Mary Dollenmair:  How many property owners are there?  Was told that Town Manage would have that number available.  Jeff responds that all property owners will be contacted.  (Didn’t give a number.)  Mary says, if there are a hundred property owners, then the process to contact property owners will take a long time.
    16. Carolyn Stevens:  The new contract should specify which laws should be followed vs. general clause.  Questions the definition of “shade tree”.  Definition doesn’t say anything about residential downtown vs. back roads.  The problem of subjective decision-making.  Surveyed rights of way:  problems of shifting road centers.  What about second-home owners?  Survey distance is horizontal distance vs. surface distance.  Riparian buffers, etc. Safety:  don’t want people increasing speeds.  Wider roads means faster cars.
    17. Jon Quinn:  Expresses thanks for alternative (funding) ways to get the job done.
    18. Kyle Daniels:  Asks if there’s another special meeting.
    19. Dave Maxwell:   He recommends Town Manager to move forward with a pilot effort on Winch Hill.  Dave emphasized the approach would involve communication and a fair process.

Trees and Roads: Where, How & Why?

If you haven’t followed Front Porch Forum or attended the most recent Selectboard meetings, you may not be aware of property owner concerns about roadside tree removal along two contiguous areas:

Smith Hill, Dole Hill, Stony Brook Rd.  and   Winch Hill, Bull RunMessier Hill Rd.

About two-dozen residents and property owners attended the June 21st special Selectboard meeting with concerns about proposed tree removal along these roadsides. (See the Meeting Minutes June 14 & Minutes June 21  to catch up to speed.)  Word had gotten around that Northfield’s road foreman had made a no-bid, no-contract deal with a private company to remove trees on Smith Hill.  Many property owners had only received the information by word-of-mouth from neighbors.  Obviously, property owners weren’t happy – but they were very civil and made no ill-will against the town foreman.

dtn-155-volvo-champion-201206-4
Example of brush mower equipment

Ordinarily, roadside growth management isn’t a cause of public arousal — but this is because, ordinarily, roadside growth management is conducted on a regular basis, which means a generation of trees don’t have the opportunity to grow to full maturity along town roads and highways.  150 years ago almost all of Vermont’s landscape was denuded, but in our lifetimes, we’re used to tree-lined back roads.  Some folks appreciate the aesthetics of tree canopies covering roadsides; others find these same sections of roads to be a nuisance and potentially unsafe.

But before we get into the subject, there are three things which need to be mentioned.  I’m sure I can’t cover all the issues today, but let’s get started.

IMG_1950

1. The bottom line is that, under municipal law,  the Town has the authority to remove trees in road right-of-ways.  However, procedures need to be followed.  We need clear views and open ditches.  We shouldn’t have dead trees or limbs falling in roadways.  The Town has responsibilities to maintain highways.  But the Town is required to communicate with landowners, ideally in a way that prevents controversy.

IMG_19532. Part of these procedures include adherence to state policies, programs, and practices.  Some policies may overlap, raising interesting questions.  For example, does tree removal right next to a river, brook or stream — within a town right of way — comply with the Clean Water Act or the Riparian Buffer law?

IMG_19573. Perhaps the best thing that can be done moving forward is for the Town to draft a comprehensive road and highway plan.  The new Clean Water Act has created many new changes and requirements related to road maintenance.  According to state documents, the development of a Road Stormwater Management Plan is under way.  The  process to develop the RSMP identifies, inventories and prioritizes sections of roads connected to surface waters,  prioritizes maintenance, and provides a multi-year timeline for implementation.  Why not work with the State to draft a local highway plan?  There are new rules to follow, and we may as well work alongside experts from an early point.

So back to the basic point:  Vermont statute authorizes a Town to remove trees.  But there are rules a Town has to follow:

§ 904. Brush removal
The selectmen of a town, if necessary, shall cause to be cut and burned, or removed from within the limits of the highways under their care, trees and bushes which obstruct the view of the highway ahead or that cause damage to the highway or that are objectionable from a material or scenic standpoint. Shade and fruit trees that have been set out or marked by the abutting landowners shall be preserved if the usefulness or safety of the highway is not impaired. Young trees standing at a proper distance from the roadbed and from each other, and banks and hedges of bushes that serve as a protection to the highway or add beauty to the roadside, shall be preserved. On State highways, the Secretary shall have the same authority as the selectmen. (Added 1985, No. 269 (Adj. Sess.), § 1.)

However, with only a word-of-mouth deal – a definite no-no in government — the tree removal company — Limlaw Pulpwood & Chipping — would have had a huge liability on their hands.  Statute 901 says:

901. Removal of roadside growth 

A person, other than the abutting landowner, shall not cut, trim, remove, or otherwise damage any grasses, shrubs, vines, or trees growing within the limits of a State or town highway, without first having obtained the consent of the Agency for State highways or the selectmen for town highways. (Added 1985, No. 269 (Adj. Sess.), § 1.)

Violations result in a penalty between $10 and $100 for each offense, under statute 902. Lacking proof of consent (a contract) would have been a huge legal liability.   

Another part of the process that didn’t fully take place recently was communication with landowners and the offering of felled trees, which are owned by the landowner, not the Town.  The word-of-mouth deal offered the tree removal service company trees in exchange for service.  The town can’t trade things it doesn’t own.  It can offer only the trees a property owner doesn’t want to keep.

This leads to the question of “free” service.  The word-of-mouth deal was described as “free” multiple times, but as we know, nothing in life is free.  Sure, taxpayers wouldn’t foot the bill.  The work would be subsidized by property owners.

This leads to another question:  what is the value of the contract?  The insinuation was that the value of exchange was pulpwood stumpage for “$300/hr” tree removal service.  (Apparently, roadside tree removal service costs as much as a New York attorney.)

But are Northfield’s back roads lined 100% with pulpwood?  Not at all.  There’s maple, pine, birch, black cherry, hemlock — all sorts of trees.  Some trees have value as lumber, some as firewood.  Even standing dead can have high-value.  Spalted maple slabs retail in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

Now, does a single property owner have enough trees to make it worth their while to cut, process and sell?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it’s fair to ask, “What is the sum value of trees some property owners — not all — contribute to offset the cost of the “free” contract?”

Does it matter?  Well, from a practical perspective, if the property owners aren’t going to use felled trees, maybe not.  But if property owners want to form a cooperative effort to maximize value for themselves, there’s no law stopping them.

No matter what property owners choose to do, we should at least acknowledge their contribution.  If you think about it, roadside property owners will be essentially paying a double tax — a property tax,  plus the value of trees the Town is giving away to pay for highway maintenance any resident may enjoy.