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For two decades, Waitsfield voters have annually added funds to the town’s Conservation Fund. Initially called the Recreation, Conservation and Public Restroom Fund, it was created so that the town could set aside money for the aforementioned items.
And the select board, as the legislative body of the town, has the legal authority to make decisions about how to use the money in that fund. It is entirely appropriate that the town select board voted this month to spend $20,000 from that fund to purchase a very important parcel of land on Bridge Street.
The land, site of the former Birke Photography Studio which was destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene, provides the town with important access and possibilities for strengthening and/or raising the western abutment of the historic village covered bridge so that when the next flood hits, the bridge is less likely to be damaged or destroyed.
Federal flood policies call for not rebuilding in a floodplain when possible and the owners of the parcel recognized that when they offered to sell the parcel to town. There’s no question that if something is rebuilt on that site, that it will be flooded during the next flood.
And there’s no question that there will be a next flood.
The petitioners who this week called on the select board to rescind their decision to purchase the property may be concerned about money and tax rates and rightfully so. But this purchase is coming from funds already set aside for just such an action.
To argue that taking it off the tax rolls will have a significant impact does not hold water. Taking it off the Waitsfield Grand List will result in $200 less in property taxes raised. That will not make a significant impact.
The value of the land to the town, to protect the covered bridge alone, is worth well more than $20,000. The ability to give the river more room to move in a flood event means it is less likely the bridge will be swept downstream and could lessen or minimize flooding throughout the rest of Bridge Street.
There is solid science behind the idea of opting not to rebuild in the floodplain and Waitsfield is right to take this opportunity.
And using funds from the Conservation Fund is the appropriate way to make it happen.