Forest Service to sell its Middlebury office

MIDDLEBURY — The United States Forest Service (USFS) this fall will move the final three employees out of its Middlebury office at 1007 Route 7 South in anticipation of selling that facility and consolidating its administrative operations in Rochester.
The USFS will first reach out to local, state, county or federal agencies to see if any would like to acquire the property “at not less than market value,” according to Christopher Mattrick, the Middlebury and Rochester district ranger. The town of Middlebury and the Addison County Solid Waste Management District could emerge as suitors for the 3.9-acre property that includes seven buildings of varying sizes.
The Forest Service will hire an appraiser to determine its fair market value, Mattrick said.
If the USFS can’t strike a deal for a market-rate price, it will then put the property up for grabs at public auction, he said. With Route 7 frontage, the land could provide a good site for a business, officials said.
“We want to get the best deal for the American public,” Mattrick said of seeking a good price for a property bought, developed and maintained with federal tax dollars.
In 1960 the USFS first established a small workshop at the 1007 Route 7 location. The agency built an office there in 1966 to accommodate a growing number of Forest Service workers affiliated with the Green Mountain National Forest’s Middlebury and Rochester ranger district.
Mattrick said the Middlebury office was a busy place during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But the Forest Service began to de-emphasize its Middlebury location during the 1990s. The staff migration to Rochester began in earnest around 20 years ago with construction of a new ranger station at the intersection of Ranger Road and Route 100. There are currently 23 full- and part-time USFS workers at the Rochester ranger station.
“Beginning in 1990, we started seeing fewer and fewer positions there,” Mattrick said of Middlebury.
Now there are three: a wildlife technician, a recreation technician and a visitors’ services official. Plans call for the two technicians to relocate to Rochester by this October, and for the visitors’ services official to get an office in the Addison County Chamber of Commerce building on Court Street. 
That official will continue to process firewood permits, Christmas tree permits and provide visitor information in Middlebury at least on a seasonal, part-time basis, according to Mattrick.
Forest Services officials hope the Middlebury station doesn’t stand vacant for too long, though Mattrick said it could take a year or more for the property to be sold. The eventual buyer won’t need to worry about repairing the buildings, even though their ages vary, Mattrick said.
“The property is in good condition,” he said. “All the buildings have been well maintained over the years.”
Middlebury Selectwoman Susan Shashok is among town officials who believe the USFS property could provide needed storage space for police and public works equipment. Some of that equipment, Shashok noted, is being stored in some of the town’s former wastewater treatment structures off Seymour Street. Those structures are deteriorating.
Shashok chairs the Middlebury Infrastructure Committee, which is recommending that town staff check into the property and its potential suitability as a storage location.
“It certainly would solve a lot of our current storage issues,” she said.
Meanwhile, the waste management district’s executive board has asked its staff to see if it would be in the district’s best interest to acquire the neighboring USFS property. District Manager Theresa Kuczynski said the district does not have a specific use in mind at this point for the parcel.
Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler said he recently took a look at the Middlebury USFS property and has determined it doesn’t meet the department’s needs.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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