Irene delays major Middlebury project

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen heard at their Tuesday meeting that the major Buttolph Drive project — including paving and new sidewalks, water and sewer mains, and storm drains — might not be completed this fall as originally scheduled.
Much of Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to whether flood-prevention work in the Middlebury River in East Middlebury after Tropical Storm Irene was done properly. About four dozen residents and experts questioned selectmen on that issue; see story, Page 1A.
Tropical Storm Irene is also indirectly posing the problem on Buttolph Drive, said Public Works Director Dan Werner. The project’s main contractor, Markowski Excavating of Florence, has devoted much of its manpower and equipment to dealing with storm damage in the Brandon and Pittsford areas.
And, Werner said, Buttolph Drive work was already behind its mid-October completion target date because excavation had unexpectedly and repeatedly caused breaks in the existing, aging water mains. That problem meant the contractors had to set up an above-ground hose system to feed water to homes, as well as take the time to plug leaks.
With most asphalt plants ready to cease production by mid-November, Werner said he was by no means sure even an extra month would be enough to complete the project, even if Markowski returned in full force sooner rather than later.
“They need to do some serious hustling,” he said.
Selectmen acknowledged that the delays would cost the contractor money, if for no other reason that Markowski would have to put down a smooth temporary surface that would allow the town to plow this winter.
But selectmen, even though they said they were upset with a lack of communication, were hesitant to come down too hard with financial penalties on the firm, which, as Werner noted, was aiding its hometowns.
“That should be a topic of discussion,” he said. “What should we accept for them going off to help other communities?”
Still, Werner said it was time for Markowski to focus on Buttolph Drive again.
“They really need to get back here,” he said.
The good news for Buttolph Drive residents, Werner said, is that the new water main is in place and has been chlorinated. Its water is undergoing testing now, and the main should be on line soon. Werner said the sewer line would also be done and underground before winter.
Werner also told selectmen the town’s Stewart Lane project is on schedule, and the board agreed to hire Phelps Engineering to design a 2012 project on Creek Road. That project will pave the road past Fucile Field, and add sidewalk and curbing toward the field. In a final infrastructure note, Werner said Middlebury’s biggest 2012 project will be resurfacing South Street.
Selectmen deferred until at least their next meeting, which was moved from Sept. 27 to 26, a decision on filling two vacancies. One was created on the selectboard by the recent resignation of Selectwoman Janelle Ashley, and the other is the position of town health officer. Incumbent health officer Bob LaFiandra died earlier this month.
Two candidates for each position have so far emerged, and board chairman John Tenny said more would be welcome by Sept. 26.
East Middlebury resident Eric Murray, who ran for the board this year but lost in what he called a close race, spoke at the meeting, stressing his business experience and the support he received at the polls. In a three-way contest on Town Meeting Day, Murray received 296 votes to 374 and 482 for incumbents Craig Bingham and Dean George, respectively.
East Middlebury resident Susan Shashok, the other candidate to express an interest at this point, could not be at the meeting because of a previously scheduled vacation. Two residents spoke on her behalf, describing her attention to detail and willingness to listen as a community leader and business manager.
Selectmen said they expect both Shashok and Murray to attend on the 26th, when a decision is likely.
Selectmen also invited both health officer candidates to appear on the 26th, incumbent deputy health officer Tom Scanlon and Hannah Benz, a physician. Scanlon spoke at the Tuesday meeting, stressing his six years of experience and the training he had already received. Selectmen will also probably listen to both candidates and fill that position on the 26th.
Selectmen discussed upcoming opportunities for public comment leading up to the Sept. 27 vote on whether residents will approve $250,000 in planning money for what Middlebury Fire Department officials hope will eventually be a major facilities upgrade.
Plans call for the East Middlebury station to be razed and rebuilt, and the Seymour Street station to be renovated and expanded. The projected cost is about $4.9 million.
Tenny said there will be three chances to learn more before the preliminary vote: open houses at both fire stations this Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, a community meeting in the municipal gym on Monday night at 7 p.m., and a formal public hearing at 7 p.m. in the town offices’ community room on Sept. 26.
Tenny hoped many would attend the open houses.
“The open houses really provide the public the best opportunity to understand the needs,” he said.
In other business, selectmen:
•  Said their next meeting will feature a presentation on the potential benefits and costs of a town economic development position, which would have the responsibility of helping existing businesses grow and attracting new firms. Selectmen said the discussion would also include possible ways of funding the job.
•  Heard from Town Manager Bill Finger that in October “tentative numbers” would be available for what Selectman Nick Artim called “a variety of options” for a new town office building and community center. Artim said a presentation to the board next month would also include a summary of problems with the existing building and objectives for a new one.
•  Heard from Finger that the town’s 250th anniversary celebration would include a skit based on the signing of Middlebury’s charter, to be performed at the Town Hall Theater; a display of a paper quilt made by town 4th-graders, also at the theater; a historical scavenger hunt that will offer an iPad as a prize; and fireworks. Events will be in late October and early November.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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