Community Forum: Forums set on rail bridge projects

This week’s writer is Nancy Malcolm of Middlebury, chair of the Middlebury Planning Commission.
There is no doubt about one thing: The railroad bridges replacement project in Middlebury is going to happen and it will have a huge effect on our entire community.
Especially vulnerable during the construction will be our downtown. Downtown is the heart of our social, economic and cultural vitality. We drive, walk or ride through downtown to get to work, doctors’ appointments and school. We meet our friends on the streets and at the post office. Our library is a hub of activity for all ages. We can shop and then grab a wonderful meal or cup of coffee. We enjoy walks by the falls and admire the architecture of the stately historic buildings. We look forward to a play or the Warren Miller movie at Town Hall Theater. Visitors like to stay overnight and enjoy our quaint, yet real town. We will be affected one way or another and we cannot think for a moment that our entire community will not have to ways to navigate the disruption.
Neighbors, Together is a community action group that first hosted two forums earlier this month to engage citizens to identify values that should be protected during the upcoming rail and bridge project. The lists were long but the values that were identified as most critical by those in attendance were:
• Accessibility (including parking, pedestrian and cycling access, emergency service access and way-finding signage);
• The economic vitality of downtown and regional businesses;
• The cultural and social vibrancy and strong sense of community.
There were other concerns about the integrity of the historic buildings, cleanliness, safety, tourism, environmental impacts and the overall aesthetic qualities of our beautiful town. All important to all of us.
So what can we do to help mitigate the construction impact? We can work together to come up with solutions. In fact, we NEED to work together to come up with solutions.
Neighbors, Together is hosting a second set of forums to brainstorm ideas to address those very things that we want to protect. Ideas beget ideas, and when we work together constructive thoughts and enthusiasm will flow.
We take this very seriously, yet we want to have fun. We do not want to wake up and say, “If we only had done such and such, we could have made sure that CCV students were able to get to their classes at the Battell Block.” Or, maybe we come up with an event celebrating “noise” that would bring visitors to the community to show all that we are still open for business. We may come up with creative ways to make sure that the Chili Fest and Very Merry Middlebury Christmas can continue and we can walk through town safely.
We are all in this together. Please come with your ideas on Sunday, Feb. 21, from 3-5 p.m. and/or Thursday, Feb. 25, from 6-7 p.m. at St Stephen’s Church. Childcare for children 3 and older will be provided on Sunday.
Our goals are protect our community and help it thrive and survive during the rail bridges replacement project. Will you help? We need you.

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