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Waitsfield's sidewalk project has had its fair share of complications and other issues, including the fact that the sidewalk was planned where utility poles were planted.
Most recently Waitsfield town administrator Valerie Capels was told that the town's long-approved plans to plant 31 street trees from Irasville through Waitsfield Village was being denied by VTrans because the agency of transportation has a policy of not planting trees in its right of way.
Never mind that the trees were included in every version of the plans, which VTrans had approved multiple times before and after the project went out to bid.
Never mind that the contractor had already purchased the trees.
Never mind, as Capels pointed out to every state official, functionary, representative, commissioner or agent she could find, that this VTrans right-of-way policy was in direct conflict with the VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Planning and Design Manual which specifically states that street trees calm traffic and improve safety.
When Capels encountered resistance from state officials, she pushed back and she pushed harder and ultimately was able to get VTrans back at the table and work a compromise that got most – but not all – of the trees planted as planned, and some of them planted where not initially planned but still where they would create the desirable (and traffic calming) street tree canopy.
Her persistence resulted in Vermont Deputy Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter acknowledging the discrepancy between agency policies that encourage street trees and those that disallow them in the state's right of way. Minter also said, via email, that she'd be initiating a work group to develop a clearer policy on street trees in village settings.
Most of the trees have now been planted and they look great and will only get better with time. Hats off to Capels for standing up for Waitsfield's trees and not taking no (or no trees) for an answer.
That kind of advocacy for doing the right thing is invaluable.