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Middlebury officials eyeing $1.15M Creek Road rebuild

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury should work to reopen flood-damaged Creek Road as soon as possible, and then phase in a series of more than $1 million in upgrades to the road, which has been closed to through-traffic for the past two years.
That’s the course the Middlebury Infrastructure Committee on June 22 voted unanimously to ask the selectboard to pursue.
The recommendation followed the committee’s review of a consultant’s report detailing four potential fixes for Creek Road, which has been closed to through traffic since 2015 due to safety concerns posed by significant stream bank erosion and extensive pavement damage in several areas. The road is currently gated and closed between a point south of the state transportation garage southward to the intersection with Three Mile Bridge Road.
Committee members at their meeting also heard from some residents of the Creek Road neighborhood, some of whom urged officials to simply make basic repairs and reopen the road quickly, rather than invest $1.15 million in the solution that Wilder-based Pathways Consulting LLC believes could best protect the road from flood damage caused by the adjacent Otter Creek.
Some neighborhood residents argued the river will ultimately choose its own course and the town should in the meantime put Creek Road back in circulation.
“All you need to do is fix what needs to be fixed,” said resident Maurice Rheaume.
“Open it up; it’s your responsibility.”
Hank Nop has farmed property off Creek Road for many years, and has seen the flooding that can occur during wet months. He urged officials not to “spend too much money” on the solution.
“I would like to see them fix the road here and there, and it would be fine,” said Nop, who has a key to the gate on Creek Road that allows him access to farmland.
Mark Perrin and his family have lived on Creek Road since 1990. He voiced frustration about how flood damage and the lingering road closure.
“We just want to get to the end of our driveway,” Perrin said.
He acknowledged the repair solution would be costly. Since its closure to through traffic, Creek Road — with its great views — has become a popular biking, jogging and walking location, according to Perrin. So the road has become important to a lot more people than the residents who live there.
“This is not an easy one,” Perrin said of the Creek Road fix. “There’s a lot of emotions out there.”
Middlebury has already invested around $752,000 in Creek Road improvements during the past year, which included 2,200 of new pavement and installation of a new sidewalk on the west side of the street north of the closed part. That portion of Creek Road serves Middlebury’s new recreation facility. The job also featured upgrades to the Creek Road storm sewer system.
Now the selectboard must turn its attention to the long-term viability of the rest of the road. To that end, the board hired Pathways in February 2016 to assess the nature of flooding and bank erosion along Otter Creek, explore strategies for stabilizing its banks, and identify cost-efficient alternatives for re-opening the road.
FOUR OPTIONS
Consultants considered the following four design options to address the Creek Road deficiencies:
•  Shifting 8,320 feet of Creek Road away from the creek, in order to restore a 25-foot, vegetated buffer between the road and the flowing water. This design would require the acquisition of 7,400 feet of additional right-of-way width (10 to 40 feet) on several private properties immediately east of Creek Road. Estimated cost: $1,150,000, which does not include any bank stabilization measures.
•  Stabilizing the creek banks and making “minimum road improvements” along 12,400 feet of existing Creek Road to allow it to remain in its present location and be reopened to traffic. This plan would include resurfacing 50 percent of Creek Road, installing 800 feet of road stabilization fabric in soft areas, improving existing drainage crossings (and installing three new ones), and putting in 800 feet of new ditching to improve drainage. Estimated cost: $1,469,000.
•  Constructing a new, 2,000-foot road connecting Meadow Glen Drive to Creek Road between the Perrin and Nop properties. This would also involve shifting 4,210 feet of Creek Road within, or near, its existing right-of-way to restore a 25-foot buffer between the road and stream banks and abandoning a 4,800-foot segment of Creek Road. Estimated cost: $1,388,000.
•  Maintaining Creek Road in its present location. This would call for minimum upgrades to 12,400 feet of the existing road to allow it to reopen at its current location. Around 50 percent of the road would be resurfaced, and 800 feet of road stabilization fabric would be installed in soft areas. The plan would also require installation of 8,000 feet of new ditching and 1,300 feet of “limited bank stabilization measures” — such as stone fill armoring, or riprap — in what consultants identified as the “most critical bank sections.” Estimated cost: $530,000.
After extensive study and input from Middlebury officials and property owners, the consultants elected to advance the first, $1.15 million option.
“Only design recommendation No. 1 provides a cost-effective and feasible approach that reaches a balance between cost, the need to move the road away from the stream, the need to restore an adequate riparian buffer, and minimize the potential impacts on other natural resources (such as floodplain and wetlands) and private properties in the vicinity,” the consultants concluded in their 44-page report.
Officials also touted the preferred option because it would maintain the current traffic pattern, would not affect access to private properties, would “minimize future road maintenance costs,” could be built in one construction season, would “substantially” reduce Otter Creek bank erosion through creation of the 25-foot buffer, and could be considered a “long-term solution.”
But officials also acknowledged some “negative aspects” of the preferred project, including that it would require right-of-way acquisition from seven private property owners and would have an impact to roughly 1.1 acres of surrounding wetlands.
After around an hour of debate, the Middlebury Infrastructure Committee decided to make reopening Creek Road a top priority, but that the town could probably not afford a $1.15 million fix in one fell swoop. So the panel will recommend that the selectboard implement Pathways’ proposed plan over several years.
“We ought to fix the section of road that needs to be fixed, and then it ought to be opened up,” committee member Heather Seeley said.
Committee Chairperson Susan Shashok said she, too, would like to see Creek Road opened as soon as possible, but she also noted the town’s many past, quick fixes that have since been undone by flooding.
“It’s time to look (at Creek Road) as a whole,” she said.
As committee member Don Keeler noted, the town currently has no funds set aside for the Creek Road fix. It remains to be seen how much of the $1.15 million price tag Middlebury would have to absorb. Consultants believe the project would qualify for state/federal grants, and are encouraging the town to seek funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Josh Donabedian, transportation planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, said Middlebury can expect some financial help through the state. That’s because Creek Road is “hydrologically connected” to Otter Creek, and the state is prioritizing repairs to such roads, he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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