The bulk of the evening was given to an inconclusive discussion of the potential impact on roads and services of the proposed Denison schist quarry. Edee Edwards repeated her belief, expressed at last week’s meeting, that the town ought to maintain town highway 52, or Old Stage Road, if the quarry becomes a reality. With four people working there, Edwards said, the road should be reliably passable for all emergency personnel. “How do you feel about that?” she asked board chair Lewis Sumner.
“It’s a class four road; we’re not obligated,” Sumner replied.
“Yes, but how do you feel about that?” persisted Edwards, noting that the quarry would be “one of the largest employers in town.”
Highway supervisor Bradley Rafus pointed out that another class four road in town has four houses on it, but is not maintained by the town. “It wasn’t passable for quite a while after Irene, and we were told to leave it alone.” Observing that more than four people were involved in that case, Rafus maintained that the issue is the same. “If you do it,” he said, “you should do it across the board.”
Edwards has occasionally suggested that the town consider discontinuing some roads it does maintain, lest it be forced to rebuild them in the wake of another Irene-scale disaster. Some of those roads also have houses on them. Asked if the concerns she feels regarding better access to the quarry workers meant she has changed her mind on that issue, Edwards replied firmly that it does not. “No,” she said. “I’m capable of seeing both sides of the issue.”
Edwards still believes there is no good reason to continue maintaining some roads, but said she wanted to consider Old Stage Rd. separately from the broader issue.
Marilyn Allen issued a heartfelt plea that the board consider the “real fiscal concerns” of citizens facing high, and constantly rising, tax bills. Given that the quarry is seeking permission to operate for fifty years, Allen questioned the wisdom of taking on the expense of maintaining Old Stage Road. Rafus suggested that if the town does decide to maintain that road, it should be reclassified to a class three road, as the town can get no financial aid from the state for the maintenance of class four roads.
Rafus went on to say he has safety and maintenance concerns “aside from this project” about Stark Mountain Road, which is part of the proposed shipping route for the quarry. Stark Mountain Road is steep, narrow, and winding, with a sharp drop off one side. Edwards said that the board needs to have figures for upgrade and maintenance costs for the roads along the quarry’s shipping route before the Act 250 hearings begin. Maggie Bartenhagen agreed on the importance of knowing before the hearing what the impacts on the town are likely to be. “I’d hate to have this go through and then be blindsided by the consequences,” Bartenhagen said.
During a discussion of truck weights and the wear and tear ratio between passenger and commercial vehicles, Rafus observed that “people don’t understand the weight of trucks.” A single axle, he said, does more damage than a tandem, which distributes the weight better. Rafus cited fuel delivery trucks as a frequent source of road damage. When Edwards mooted the possibility of charging municipal fees for heavy trucks, Allen said she was told by Holtz that the town charges only $10 per year. Because the town has no scale, there is no way to calculate reasonable fees for overweight. Nick Bartenhagen asked Jerry Pratt of Ashfield Stone, co-applicant for the quarry, for the specifications of the trucks that would be used to haul the stone. “We posted it some time ago,” Pratt said, but said he could not remember where it was posted, nor could he recall any specs off-hand.
Rafus said the town’s tandem trucks are “rated for 68,000 pounds, 58,000 in Massachusetts.” That, he said, is lighter than logging trucks. Bartenhagen reminded the board that frequency of travel is as important a factor as vehicle weight. That brought up the subject of the traffic study performed for the town by the Windham Regional Commission. Browsing through the study, Edwards noted that the bulk of current traffic consists of passenger vehicles and that traffic density on the roads in question seems to be greater at one in the morning than during the afternoon. Edwards said the board has not yet discussed the study; it may do so at the 8 am Monday meeting to sign highway orders. But so far, no conclusions relevant to the quarry project have been drawn.
In other business, Rafus reported that the tree cutting project on Amidon Road was completed that day, and drew the board’s attention to posted figures of bids to provide the town’s new truck. Sumner suggested the bids be discussed at the Monday meeting. Rafus urged the board to move quickly, as it will take several months for the truck to be delivered and fitted with equipment. Edwards reported that town office roof “will be done by the deadline,” and Sumner announced that the Old County North Bridge is open.
Blaise McGarvey made an extensive plea for roadside beautification and offered to assist in the effort.