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Orwell is in the clear on historic site stone removal

ORWELL — Officials in the town of Orwell were within their rights when they removed a stone outcropping within the Mount Independence State Historic Site, according to the state Division for Historic Preservation.
In late October, Orwell town workers removed a rock outcropping beside a hairpin turn on Mount Independence Road, within the boundaries of the Mount Independence State Historic Site. In November, after allegations the town may have overstepped its bounds in altering a historic landmark, the state Division for Historic Preservation became involved.
Selectboard chair Roland Simmons said the late-October stone removal served two purposes: to remove a ledge that jutted out on the turn, where he said the town snowplow has gotten caught before, and to use the rock to stabilize a sinkhole on the road near the shore of Lake Champlain that opened up during spring flooding this year.
Last month, the Division for Historic Preservation became aware that the stone had been removed and began looking into the possibility that the town may have needed a permit to do work within the historic site.
“Because this is a historical landmark, it’s a significant historic resource,” said Julie Kelliher, of the Division for Historic Preservation. “Mount Independence is among the country’s important historic sites, due to its role in the revolutionary and the French and Indian Wars.”
Simmons at the time said the town was entirely within its rights.
“By statute, we can work in the right-of-way,” said Simmons.
Kelliher last week confirmed that the agency’s fact-finding process had confirmed the town’s permission to work in the immediate area of the road.
“Based on the information the town provided, the project was undertaken within the town’s right-of-way and paid for with town funds,” she said.
But, she added, the incident demonstrated the necessity of open communication between the town of Orwell and the state Division for Historic Preservation.
“We’ll be reaching out to the selectboard and requesting an opportunity to come talk, and maybe do a presentation on the historic significance of the site,” she said. “We’d like to point out … some of the historic resources that may be hidden, and things that could be impacted by future road work.
“Our ultimate goal is to establish a good working relationship with the town so that they would see the value of working with us, even if something didn’t require a permit,” said Kelliher.
Meanwhile, Simmons said the stone has served the purpose of stabilizing the sinkhole to the point where it will last the winter. But, he said, that was the second sinkhole on the road in as many years.
“Neither sinkhole is fixed,” he said. “It’s stabilized, but we’ll have to do more for a long-term fix.”
For that, the town has contracted out for an engineering study that is looking to find a long-term fix for the road. Simmons said the town has moved the road to the side several times.
Once the results of the study are in, Simmons said the town may look to get federal hazard mitigation funding.
Simmons said the interim work of stabilizing the sinkhole — and the rock near the road — to the point where it was safe for vehicles to travel was a crucial undertaking.
“Now it’s in place the way it should be,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at andrea@addisonindependent.com.

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