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Ripton streambed is getting major work

WORKERS WILL BE busy well into November making $2.5 million in repairs aimed at strengthening the banks of the Middlebury River off Route 125 in Ripton. They are shown here installing river diversion devices this summer. Photo courtesy of VTrans

We’re glad to have them doing their best to keep that road passable, in spite of weather events that might come.
— Ripton selectboard member Laurie Cox

MIDDLEBURY — Those traveling along Route 125 in Ripton have been getting a firsthand look at a $2.5 million effort to stabilize key sections of the Middlebury River stream bank, which has been periodically breached during heavy rains.

The work, according to Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) officials, is scheduled to proceed into November and involves a total of 1,654 feet in six distinct areas of the river bank, spread out from about a mile south of Ripton village  to a mile north of the village.

The goal, officials said, is to strengthen weaker shoulders of the river so they’re less prone to surrendering to floodwaters that have at times ravaged adjacent Route 125 and thus temporarily isolated the small mountain town from emergency services in neighboring Middlebury.

Travelers have been taking in interesting sights of the project area of late. Workers with general contractor JP Sicard Inc. are stacking 4,000 cubic yards of heavy rip-rap — which are large stone blocks — roughly eight feet high within the river to fortify embankments bordering Route 125.

“You’re basically building up a heavy stone gravity embankment and then we’re putting additional stone on top of that, up to (Route 125),” said Ken Upmal, VTrans project manager for the Middlebury River stream bank stabilization project.

In addition to stream bank stabilization, the project will result in the replacement of several culverts and stretches of guardrail, and repaving of Route 125 within the project limits.

Travelers should expect one-way alternating traffic, with flaggers, within the work zone.

All work will occur during the day, according to VTrans officials.

Upmal explained this latest Middlebury River-related project has been 10 years in the making. On Aug. 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene hammered Vermont, triggering three major washouts on Route 125 in East Middlebury and Ripton. And as bad as Irene rocked the area, its damage paled in comparison to a 2008 flood that had erased several portions of Route 125 and took out entire sections of other local roads in Ripton, East Middlebury, Salisbury, Leicester, Goshen and Hancock.

Workers moved quickly to restore affected Middlebury River embankments following those major floods, and after another one that occurred around three years ago. So the current construction is intended to fortify those fixes and hopefully lessen the chance for flooding during the next major storm.

Ripton selectboard member Laurie Cox said her community is definitely on board with this latest VTrans project.

“We’re glad to have them doing their best to keep that road passable, in spite of weather events that might come,” she said.

Cox conceded that Ripton might have caused a small delay in the project. This occurred after someone in town (Cox doesn’t know who) raised concerns that the contractor was using white stone as part of its stream bank stabilization fill. She noted Ripton has had a longstanding policy of ensuring that native grey or brown stone is used within the river, because (a) it mimics what’s already there, and (b) the white stone has a different chemical composition that makes the water more acidic and thus potentially harmful for fish.

The contractor switched to grey-grown stone when informed of the town’s concern, according to Cox.

OLD TOWN ROAD

While gratified with the prospect of a more resilient stream bank, Ripton officials want to give residents a long-term sense of safety and security. To that end, they’re taking a closer look at the defunct Old Town Road, which is essentially used as a right of way for Green Mountain Power to access its electric utility infrastructure in Ripton.

Old Town Road connects with Route 125 just south of Goshen Road, travels west to eventually become National Forest Road 296, and reconnects to Route 125 just north of Upper Plains Road in Middlebury. Part of it is called the Oak Ridge Trail in the National Forest.

Were it not for Joseph Battell — a prominent Addison County property owner and Middlebury College benefactor more than a century ago — Old Town Road might still be widely used to this day, according to Cox. She said Battell was instrumental in switching the main route over to Route 125, owing to its scenic, riverside environs.

A section of Old Town Road can currently only be traversed with an ATV and a culvert along the route has fallen out of its setting, according to Cox. Ripton officials are hoping to reset the culvert and add gravel to Old Town Road, bit by bit, until it can accommodate vehicles on emergency runs.

“Without too much work, it could be made passable to most four-wheel drive vehicles,” Cox said, but stressed: “Our goal is not to open it for public travel; only to get emergency vehicles in and out.”

But years from now, Mother Nature could dictate the future of Route 125.

“Realistically, there are parts of the river that are probably always going to win out over the road,” Cox said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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