Town seeks study to end Creek Road woes

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury is ordering a study to determine ways of preventing further erosion of Creek Road, which was closed this past spring after some large sections of the roadway surrendered to the forces of the adjacent Otter Creek.
Middlebury is seeking $15,000 in funding through the Addison County Regional Planning Commission to finance the study, to be performed by a consultant who would identify low-cost, sustainable alternatives for stabilizing the riverbank bordering Creek Road, and explore other strategies for reopening the road — possibly through relocating a portion of it, or limiting traffic to one way. The consultant will also need to provide cost estimates for these proposals.
The call for the study comes on the heels of another recent, major washout along a 140-foot stretch of Creek Road, at a point around a half-mile south of its intersection with Court Street (Route 7). A sizable chunk of riverbank and around five feet of the southbound lane has slipped around six feet into the creek at that spot. The road is still passable at the location. But the road remains closed to through traffic (by a gate) at approximately 2 miles south of its intersection with Court Street.
The erosion affects four Creek Road homes and crop fields accessed by three farms. Some drivers use the road as a bypass for Route 7 en route to Shard Villa Road and Salisbury. Others use it to access fishing holes and for walking, jogging and/or biking.
“There are tons of people who use that road for recreating,” said Selectwoman Susan Shashok, who chairs Middlebury’s public works committee. “If money wasn’t an option, I think people would like to keep the road open.”
But Shashok and her colleagues know that money is a huge factor, and Creek Road has been gobbling up a lot of the limited resources Middlebury puts into its budgets each year for its 18 miles of graveled roads.
Middlebury public works officials have estimated it would cost just south of $1.2 million to properly fix and stabilize the road well enough to keep it open to through traffic.
“It’s a real concern,” she said. “We have a real tight budget.”
A rough estimate for patching the latest Creek Road washout has been placed at around $30,000, according to Shashok. The town has already received the Army Corps of Engineers and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources permits required to complete the work, which will include digging into the adjacent creek bed, reinforcing the bank with some very large rocks and boulders, and then building the road back up, according to Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner.
It’s a solution that might cause some other headaches in the future, Werner fears.
“If you (fortify) one side of the bank, what does that do to the other side of the bank?” he said. “These projects usually take years to show their effect, either positively or negatively.”
In the meantime, the Public Works Department has been taking steps to avert — if only temporarily — further damage to Creek Road. At the recommendation of the Army Corps of Engineers, crews have been cutting some trees along portions of the road that are showing cracks. Werner explained the crews are targeting trees that are leaning toward the creek and are likely to take a portion of the riverbank with them if they are allowed to fall.
Werner acknowledged that a more permanent fix is needed.
“Removing trees is probably just postponing the inevitable,” he said.
And abandoning Creek Road does not look like an option, officials said. The farms and homes on the road need ongoing access, including snowplowing services, Werner noted. Creek Road is also home to the town’s new recreation facility, though Werner stressed there is no danger of the road failing in the vicinity of that new building.
“It’s definitely going to cost us a significant amount of money to keep (Creek Road) in its present location,” he said.
Middlebury resident Alpine Bingham visited the Middlebury selectboard on Nov. 10 to gauge the town’s interest in acquiring some of the family’s farmland off Creek Road. Town officials have not shown any firm interest thus far, but acknowledge that acquiring property in the Creek Road area might someday be needed to shift the road away from the waterway.
“I haven’t knocked any (option) off the table yet,” Shashok said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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