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Waitsfield Select board considering cost of underground conduit on Bridge Street

Waitsfield is revisiting a plan to put electrical conduits underground on Bridge Street while extensive repaving and construction work is done on that street this year.

Waitsfield Select Board chair Paul Hartshorn, at the board's May 28 meeting, raised the issue of whether the expense, which was authorized almost unanimously at Town Meeting in March, was appropriate.

"We've been spending a lot of money. We're putting the power underground near the medical center, which could have been avoided. We bought the Birke building, which was something we didn't really need. The town authorized us to put the conduit underground on Bridge Street but didn't authorize any money to put the power in the conduit, which means that next year we need to come up with $25,000 or more to put the power in there. I recommend we discontinue doing that and save ourselves $75,000," Hartshorn said.

Board member Scott Kingsbury said that he had talked to a lot of people, including people from Green Mountain Power (GMP).

"My concern is that every time there is flooding GMP is going to come shut down the power," Kingsbury said.

"Why do you think that?" asked board member Bill Parker.

"Because the transformer is going to be underwater," Kingsbury said.

"We have a transformer underground with underground conduit that feeds our building and GMP has never shown up to turn it off when there is flooding or heavy rains," Parker said.

"There's a transformer in the marketplace by David Darr's building that has never been shut down during rains," added board member Chris Pierson, noting that the building behind the Fuller House had a meter on the river side and that was never shut down during flooding.

"Board member Logan Cooke said that spending all that money on Bridge Street may seem lopsided to many people and said that the money spent putting the conduit and, later, the wires underground "can get you a lot of things for a lot of people."

"I've heard from a lot of people that we've been spending a lot of money on Bridge Street," Kingsbury said.

"It was the pretty clear sentiment of the Town Meeting vote. I expected there to be dissention on the issue and thought people would say that we were spending too much money and that vote was very telling to me. People who came to Town Meeting were very much wanting us to make decisions that would improve the town and make this a place to be proud of," Parker said.

"As much as I'm concerned that we could spend that money in better ways, there were a lot of people who made it clear that they supported it," he added.

"It seems like since it was in the paper that we're going to bury the power by the medical center, people have said they are concerned and why can't the power go diagonally," Hartshorn said, pointing out that the power poles are historic.

"The way I understood it at Town Meeting, it was $50,000 to bury the conduit and another $50,000 to put the power in. I've since then been told it's more. To move forward with this, we need to understand the cost of the finished job and the aesthetics of what that one pole that's left will look like," Kingsbury said.

"I don't think we can sit here and rescind the vote," Parker said.

"The vote was to authorize the town to do this on the basis that it's going to cost $100,000. What if it costs more?" Kingsbury asked.

"Part of that discussion at Town Meeting was that this is the time, if we're going to do it. To put in the conduits doesn't mean we have to put in the wires. We can't put the conduit in at another time," Parker responded.

"I recall it was going to cost another $75,000 to pull the wires and people did have that information in front of them at Town Meeting," Parker said.

"Exactly, the cost of burying the conduit was going to be $32,000 or $33,000 which we upped to $50,000 to make sure we'd have enough," Cooke said.

The board took no formal action on the matter and will revisit the issue of total cost.

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