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Council eyes projects, debates fix to city docks

VERGENNES — When Vergennes City Manager Ron Redmond presented a sheet with a list of looming infrastructure projects and their costs to councilors at their July 13 meeting, the potential expense of one item sparked some debate — fixing the city docks on the Falls Park, or west, side of the Otter Creek basin.

The council has already agreed to spend $6,500 to get an engineering estimate to fix the deteriorating steel-sheet wall to which the docks are attached. Redmond and his predecessor in 2020 have said it could cost $100,000 or more to replace it.

A central benefit many in Vergennes — especially business owners and backers — see to the docks is that city officials allow boaters to tie up to them for free, and those boaters can then spend money at Vergennes shops and restaurants.

But Councilor Mel Hawley said at the meeting that unless there was “some sort of cheap fix,” he was skeptical about the return of investment of a dock fix especially with more docks available.

“We have docks on the other side of the river,” Hawley said.

Councilor Dickie Austin, also a restaurateur, said it might be shortsighted to reduce dockage in Vergennes because it could discourage as well as limit visitors.

“To cut that in half seems dodgy,” Austin said.

Others noted there were longer docks along the Macdonough Drive side of Otter Creek, while boats could also continue to tie onto each other, maximizing the use of the docks.

Mayor Matt Chabot added it might be more cost-effective to add at least some docks on the far bank of the river.

“I think there’s some room to expand docks on the Macdonough side,” Chabot said.

Hawley said the number and cost of infrastructure projects on Redmond’s list also gave him pause while considering paying for a dock fix.

That list, on top of a major sewer overhaul that could reach $25 million (for which the city expects substantial funding help; see story) included:

• almost $150,000 to complete a pedestrian trail between New Haven and Monkton roads, part of a larger trail intended to loop through the city.

• $457,000 for the second and third phases of a covered recreation pavilion.

• $120,000 for a new membrane for the city pool.

• a salt shed project for which the total cost has increased from around $321,000 to almost $540,000. Redmond said the city as it stands would be responsible for $43,000 of that increase unless other funding sources can be found.

• $57,000 for Vergennes Opera House and City Hall fixes.

• $270,000 for sprinklers, repairs and remodeling to the city fire station.

City officials do expect grant and other funding help for many or most of items on this wish list, but Hawley noted its scope.

“I see a lot of improvement projects,” he said.

The council reached a consensus to wait for the dock estimate before making a decision.

At its July 13 meeting, the council also:

• Reappointed Brent Rakowski, Don Peabody, Steve Rapoport and Carrie Macfarlane to the Vergennes Development Review Board, each for two-year terms beginning Sept. 1.

• Reappointed Mike Winslow and Danelle Birong to the Vergennes Planning Commission for two-year terms beginning Aug. 1.

• Appointed city hall administrative assistant Rose Russett as the Vergennes interim treasurer. She will serve in that post during the search to replace Abbie Farrar, who resigned the treasurer’s post, effective July 6, for a similar job closer to her New York state home.

• Approved a taxi license for Ferrisburgh resident Marvin Morley.

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