U.S. Forest Service to close Middlebury Office
MIDDLEBURY — The United States Forest Service (USFS) headquarters on Route 7 in Middlebury will be vacated and sold within the next three years, as the federal government looks to consolidate some of its resources throughout the country.
This news was confirmed on Tuesday by USFS Ranger Christopher Mattrick, who manages the Rochester/Middlebury district of the Green Mountain National Forest. Mattrick disclosed the news as part of a March 8 update on local USFS activities to the new Middlebury selectboard.
Plans call for the handful of remaining staff at the Middlebury USFS building to be transferred to the larger Rochester station off Route 100. The Forest Service hopes to have the Middlebury property vacated by October of 2017, according to Mattrick.
“Nationally, the Forest Service and almost all of the USDA agencies and almost all federal agencies have been mandated to shrink the footprint of federal government,” Mattrick said of the impending property sale. “That’s not necessarily to get rid of land, it’s to get rid of infrastructure, things that cause ongoing maintenance and repair issues. And our regional office has identified the Middlebury compound as one of those facilities to be conveyed, or as we call, ‘excessed.’”
That Middlebury property, according to Mattrick, consists of a main office building of around 1,200 square feet; a larger, four-bay garage that sits behind the offices; a wood shop/conference room structure that is also roughly 1,200 square feet; and two small sheds. These buildings sit on approximately 3 acres, Mattrick said.
Middlebury’s USFS compound is home base for three full-time employees, a seasonal worker and a couple of additional Forest Service personnel who use it sporadically, according to Mattrick.
“It’s a lot of facility for three people,” Mattrick said.
Built in the 1990s, the Rochester USFS headquarters houses around 17 employees “and could easily absorb the staff that currently work in Middlebury,” Mattrick said.
Closing the Middlebury office was not an easy decision, officials said. People have found it a convenient location at which to inform tourists and hikers about Green Mountain National Forest amenities and issue Christmas tree and firewood permits, among other things.
“As you can imagine, the staff at the Middlebury office have some hesitation about it,” Mattrick said. “The idea of removing ourselves from the population in the district is a little bit disheartening to us.”
Still, USFS officials promised the federal agency would maintain a presence in Middlebury. Specifically, the Forest Service wants to maintain a full-time employee in town — most likely in rented space — to serve as a “visitor information person.” Mattrick also spoke of possible “tele-work” spots where USFS workers could set up a computer and work in Middlebury on a sporadic basis.
Mattrick asked if the USFS might locate its employee in Middlebury’s new municipal building. The selectboard responded there would not be enough room.
“There wouldn’t be an ecologist here any longer, or a forester, or a wildlife biologist,” Mattrick said of the Forest Service’s reduced presence in Addison County’s shire town.
Forest Service officials have spoken with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce about co-locating to an office in Middlebury. Mattrick noted that the chamber, currently based on Court Street, has been looking for new digs.
“The type of service we would provide is very similar (to the chamber),” Mattrick said. “It seemed like a good mix for us.”
He also alluded to other “sister United States Department of Agriculture agencies” based in Middlebury with which the Forest Service might partner. Those sister agencies include the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency.
Mattrick did not close the door on a possible tenancy outside of the public sector.
“The government is certainly willing to pay rent, or lease,” Mattrick said.
Once the Middlebury USFS property is vacated next year, it would be advertised in a government auction and sold to the highest bidder, according to Mattrick. He expects the property to be sold sometime in 2018.
Forest Service officials want to make sure their new, smaller footprint in Middlebury will be visible. While the current USFS building is tucked away off Route 7 south of the village across from Rosie’s, it has been there for at least 60 years, Mattrick noted, so people have been able to find it.
“We are looking for some place prominent,” Mattrick said. “We don’t want to be squirreled away in the back of some building somewhere where no one would pass by and see the sign.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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