Middlebury dog park gets thumbs up

MIDDLEBURY — At a Tuesday evening meeting, the Middlebury selectboard unanimously endorsed a proposal to locate a new dog park on Middlebury College-owned land off South Street, just east of the Middlebury Regional EMS headquarters.
Boosters of the new park had pitched the plan to town officials back in November. The selectboard declared conceptual support for the plan at that time, but organizers subsequently found themselves addressing some concerns about the park related primarily to its proximity to the MREMS helipad.
Dog park boosters, along with Dave Donahue — the special assistant to the president of Middlebury College — announced on Tuesday that siting issues have been resolved through a slight reconfiguration of the park. The selectboard gave its support pending the plan receiving any necessary permits. Middlebury College will apparently need an administrative change to its Act 250 permit in order to follow through with a five-year lease (at $1 per year) for the dog park.
Organizers have vowed to raise funds for the fencing, waste removal and other costs associated with the roughly two-acre park, designed as a safe, local, off-leash location for their pets to run and play. Terri Arnold, director of Middlebury Parks and Recreation, also proclaimed her support for the park, provided it is self-policed and maintained and does not become a responsibility of the town.
Middlebury Regional EMS and Porter Medical Center officials have also given their support for the park.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard voted for its favored option to improve a problematic Court Street intersection (see story on Page 1A), and also:
• Provided an update on plans to replace the Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges. As previously reported by the Addison Independent, the Vermont Agency of Transportation has agreed to consider a lowering of the minimum clearance threshold for the new spans from 21 feet to 19 feet. The 19-foot level is much closer to the current 18 feet, 8 inches of clearance the two deteriorating bridges affords trains.
The 21-foot clearance mandate is being driven by federal standards for eventually accommodating double-stack rail cars. Local officials argue the Middlebury rail route is not part of a main line and is therefore unlikely to ever see double-stack cars.
Middlebury officials hope a lowering of the clearance threshold from 21 feet to 19 feet would result in a more basic, expedient and less disruptive replacement project. The current $40 million plan calls for around nine months of 20-hour workdays in downtown Middlebury, a schedule that downtown merchants fear will severely hamper shopping. The current project design also calls for significant drainage work, rail bed excavation and other details that could carry work into 2019.
Middlebury Selectboard Chair Dean George said engineers are calculating the costs of a project with a 19-foot clearance allowance for the new bridges. That information should be ready before the end of this month and will be passed along to the Vermont Rail Council, which will review the Middlebury project at its Feb. 17 meeting, according to George. A rail council endorsement of a 19-foot bridge clearance would greatly enhance the chances of such a waiver being granted by the Legislature this year.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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