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Future of Middlebury’s Creek Road in flux as erosion eats it away

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury is currently facing a costly decision about how — and whether — to fix a large swath of Creek Road, a choice that might mean taking on Mother Nature, or simply walking away.
Creek Road has already been closed for approximately two miles north of its intersection with Route 7 south, due to significant erosion and cracking of portions of the asphalt that border Otter Creek. Middlebury Public Works officials estimate it would cost nearly $1.2 million to properly fix and stabilize the road well enough to keep it open to through traffic.
“Around 100 feet of the road has fallen into the creek,” said Dan Werner, Middlebury’s director of operations, who added there is no room within the town’s public works budget to take on an extra, major road repair project. “Any significant work that has to be done (on Creek Road) will probably require a bond vote.”
But the problems surrounding Creek Road stretch well beyond the 100 feet that have fallen into the creek, Werner and his colleagues said.
Creek Road has a total gravel length of around 12,122 feet, according to Middlebury DPW Highway Supervisor Dale Hazzard. Around 7,491 feet of that length has less than a 10-foot separation from Otter Creek to the travel lane, he noted. Only about 215 feet of that stretch has thus far been specially armored with erosion stone.
At this time, Creek Road has 1,080 feet that need “immediate repairs” to keep it open and safe for the traveling public, according to a recent memo to the selectboard signed by Hazzard. Those repairs would include bank stabilization and the placement of stone to prevent erosion.
Werner said the proximity of the road to the Otter Creek makes future erosion a real possibility.
“Rivers like to meander, and we shouldn’t try to control them,” Werner said. “Here we are at this crossroads. Do we try to control the river or not, and at what expense to taxpayers do you try to do that?”
Creek Road floods an average of three to four times per year, causing closures and damage to the driving surface, according to Hazzard. When the road floods, access to some of the residences is “non-existent,” while emergency services “cannot gain access to them without great risk, posing a danger to all involved,” he noted.
Creek Road currently serves four homes and gives three farms access to their respective crop fields, according to DPW officials. Some drivers also use it as a bypass for Route 7 en route to Shard Villa Road and Salisbury. Others use it to access fishing holes and some use it for scenic trips.
“It is a pretty mellow drive,” said Mark Perrin, whose family has lived at their Creek Road home since 1990. His spouse grew up in the neighborhood.
“It is gorgeous; there is plenty of wildlife.”
Creek Road is closed from just south of the Perrin residence to where it intersects with Three Mile Bridge Road. Access is being assured to farm vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, but it continues to be closed to through traffic.
Perrin realizes that a comprehensive fix for Creek Road could be costly. At the same time, he does not relish the prospect of having the road permanently gated at his driveway, something that he said would result in some major detours for his family and continued “turnaround” traffic by people who discover they can’t go through.
Werner and other DPW officials will soon meet with the Army Corps of Engineers to get a better sense of what repairs might be possible for Creek Road. The town’s Public Works Committee will continue to discuss the status of the road and will ultimately recommend a course of action to the selectboard.
Options could range from permanently gating the road to proposing a bond vote. If the ultimate decision is to proceed with repairs, Werner believes a comprehensive fix should be pursued rather than a piecemeal approach.
“To start and stop (work) in areas may not be the best method of repair,” Werner said. “If you commit to doing it, you really need to commit all the way, and that’s big money.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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