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Creek Road to be opened to through traffic

MIDDLEBURY’S CREEK ROAD runs right alongside Otter Creek, and an engineer said that ultimately erosion will claim parts of the road.

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously supported a plan to make enough repairs to Creek Road so it can be reopened to through-traffic, while at the same time negotiating easements with area landowners to ensure them future access to their property should Otter Creek shift its path in the future.
This plan was one of 10 considered by the Creek Road Task Force, which was charged with recommending potential fixes for a road that’s sustained heavy damage through the years during flooding from the adjacent Otter Creek. Options ranged from abandoning the road to spending close to $5 million for a major rebuild.
“After considering all the different alternatives, the task force ultimately came to the conclusion that long-term maintenance of Creek Road in its current location in proximity to Otter Creek is cost-prohibitive,” said Peter DeGraff, a senior project engineer with Otter Creek Engineering who worked with the task force on the Creek Road analysis.
Selectboard members have remained cautious about which repair route to take. Although Creek Road feeds the municipal recreation facility and the Addison County Transit Resources headquarters, it serves relatively few residents along its path from Court Street to Three Mile Bridge Road.
It’s been gated (near the Perrin household) for almost five years after floodwaters cratered stretches of what has become a scenic path for walkers and cyclists. Affected homeowners and farmers are granted access through the gateway.
Task force members factored, among other things, the illegality of having closed a designated Class 3 road, the cost of repairs, and the unpredictability of Otter Creek in what is a floodplain area.
“Ultimately, the river is going to win,” DeGraff said. “Regardless of what we do there, large sections of the road are in a floodplain, there’s significant erosive forces along the stream bank, the road is directly adjacent to the creek in a lot of different locations, and ultimately, regardless of what the town does there — we may be able to repair some areas, but the problem is just going to keep on moving.”
The option endorsed by the selectboard on Tuesday calls for interim improvements, maintenance, and monitoring of the road to allow it to be opened from Court Street to Three Mile Bridge Road. Improvements might include a combination of guardrails and minor realignments within the existing right of way. It calls for town officials to collaborate with property owners and other stakeholders to find alternative means for long-term access in case Creek Road sustains major damage.
While none of the seven selectboard members voted against the Creek Road strategy, a few were skeptical. Selectman Victor Nuovo and Nick Artim voiced concern the committee hadn’t assigned cost estimates for the interim repairs.
“To me, this looked like an open checkbook,” Artim said of his first reaction to the recommendation.
Nuovo said he didn’t want to see the town get locked into expensive repairs for a road he believes was ill-advised to begin with.
“My concern is that I’m very skeptical about continuing this road,” Nuovo said. “If it weren’t there, we’d never think about putting a road in a floodplain.”
DeGraff explained more planning needs to be done for the repair work before it can be assigned a price tag. The coming weeks will see town staff size up the fix and provide cost estimates, while also reaching out to Creek Road property owners.
Selectwoman Heather Seeley led the Creek Road Task Force. She believes making interim repairs will send a positive signal to affected property owners when it comes to negotiating easements for alternative access to the land surrounding Creek Road.
“Part of this is trying to get the road opened back up in a condition where it can be used, so those conversations (with property owners) could be had without the stress of the road being closed,” Seeley said, adding, “It’s going to cost money no matter what direction we go.”
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Voted to retain Brian Carpenter as board chairman and Heather Seeley as vice chair.
•  Briefly discussed Middlebury College’s decision to send its students home at the end of this week for an indefinite period of time, due to concerns about the coronavirus (see related story). Carpenter shared a message from college President Laurie Patton on the topic. The Independent’s reporting on the coronavirus and its potential impacts on the county will continue next week, with among other things reactions from the local business community.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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