By Lani Duke
Progress begins at Center Street Alley
With the prying up of a single brick from Center Street Alley, Rutland City has begun the process of taking out the planters and leveling what has been a terraced, brick-floored Center Street Alley. City crews will work on leveling the surface, planting greenery and putting in such improvements as picnic benches with an eye toward the area’s development as a marketplace.
The alley’s renovation has been in the works since 2005, a Creative Economy outgrowth from the expressed need for a public gathering space that would have more permanence than the warm-weather farmers’ market in Depot Park or concerts in Main Street Park. The federal government allotted $974,000 for the project in 2009, but working through the surveying errors and right-of-way procuring process was onerous, even after the city turned project administration over to the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
Now that the work has actually begun, private developers and nonprofits will be adding their own contributions to the project, to bring the total alley investment up to about $1.5 million.
Fireworks permit stalemated
Rutland City’s Public Safety Committee failed to agree whether to grant Charles Greeno a permit for a fireworks store, during its Aug. 10 meeting. The vote split evenly, 2 to 2. Greeno has asked for a permit to sell commercial grade fireworks, yet it remains illegal for individuals to set off fireworks within the city limits without a permit from the fire chief.
Standards to be developed for public communications by city staff
Rutland City needs a policy governing how staff interacts with the public on social media, Mayor Chris Louras recently told the Board of Aldermen. He is utilizing a model from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns on which to draft a policy for city employees.
Several city departments already have pages on Facebook or accounts with Twitter. Although the aldermen seem to agree that the policy should apply to city employees, they are more divided on whether elected officials should be covered by the same policy. Both City Attorney Charles Romeo and Board President William Notte foresee circumstances under which elected officials should clearly state that they are stating their own opinion rather than that of the city government. Louras has said he will produce a document aimed at assuring social media posts are “professional, tasteful and accurate.”
The city will be able to compare what its department heads are paid compared to similar communities as it works on the budget for next year. An outside consultant will compare Rutland’s leadership pay scale to that of department heads who have similar duties and employee numbers in other cities of comparable size. Plans are for the completion of the study in time for the board of alderman’s October 19 meeting, when they will vote on department head salaries. The mayor will present his budget proposal to the board on Nov. 1.
City contends with old, leaky water lines
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is helping Rutland City find leaky underground valves and pipes. Using specialized equipment, a Tennessee-based consultant is listening for the sound of water escaping below. The DPW estimates point to a water loss of 365 million gallons a year, or some 41 percent of all the water running through the system.
State Street drivers, rejoice! The big bump in the road is gone. Fuller Sand and Gravel brought in a $600,000 “reclaiming machine” to work on the affected area before repaving that part of the street. The delay in making the repair was caused by waiting for this piece of equipment to become available. DPW officials say the bump arose during last February’s gigantic water leak, which lifted up the pavement and carried masses of sand and gravel beneath the surface.
Until all the city’s old underground pipes are all replaced, Rutland can continue to expect breakdowns like the one that appeared Aug. 6. A plume of light colored material was spotted entering East Creek near the West Street bridge. Tracing the discolored water, officials found a leak in an abandoned sewer pipe that had been receiving wastewater through a connection that was sealed back in 1970. The failure sent an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 gallons of untreated sewage into a manhole, with leakage escaping into the creek from there. The DPW had to temporarily bypass the manhole and clean it out and then re-seal the connection before it could decide whether to replace or refurbish the manhole structure.
East Creek feeds into Otter Creek about half a mike below the leak, carrying contamination with it. The state health department advised posting unsafe water signage at Otter Creek access points between West Street and Proctor. The good news is that the spill did not affect municipal drinking water.
What price fire suppression?
Rutland Town fire chief Frank Cioffi won’t let his firefighters enter Bennington Furniture store on Business Route 4 if it catches fire, he said recently. Cioffi was appealing the state’s decision to give the business a sprinkler system exemption; he believes the store should install basement sprinklers with standpipes to the upper floors and add an emergency exit to its third floor.
Without these changes, the store constitutes a threat to firefighters who might be called to the building, as well as to the general public, he said. Rutland Town select board members agree with him.
The Bennington Furniture business had received a variance to state sprinkler system requirements in 1988 and again in 2015. Company owner Michael Fiacco said he is following the guidelines the state had dictated.
A Division of Fire Safety inspection is looking into whether or not the building has adequate fire protection. An inspection a year ago turned up a faulty fire alarm, which has now been replaced.
DFS director Michael Desroches has issued a gag order banning communication between his staff and the media, presumably while the investigation is in progress.
Cioffi believes the 2014 loss of the 84,000-square-foot Rutland Plywood, also allowed a sprinkler system variance and not far away from the Bennington Furniture site, points up the need for a on-site flame damping system. However, Fiacco counters that installing a sprinkler system would cost about $225,000, a price tag equal to half the current building’s worth, and cause a production shutdown for six weeks during installation.
The business employs 19 full- and part-time workers at the Rutland Town location, 30 more at its two other Vermont locations.
Dorr Drive bridge work continues . . . we’re almost there
“Site issues” have pushed the re-opening of through traffic on Dorr Drive north of its intersection with River Street back to Sept. 15. The College of St. Joseph and other destinations north of the River Street bridge continue to be accessible from the Ripley Road bridge. Some form of detour will remain in place until the end of September.
Concrete pouring on the Dorr Drive bridge is expected to continue into the week of Aug. 24, while curb work on the new section of River Street is scheduled to begin the week of August 21. Expect minor delays while sewer work and backfill are taking place.
At the project’s other end, at Ripley Road bridge, causeway construction is scheduled to begin in either late August or early September. Its purpose is to divert water away from the project area while crews work on the pier.
Infrastructures ups and downs
West Rutland plans to award a contract to extend water and sewer services, with 29 users signed up for water and 26 for sewer connections. Bids came in at $200,000 higher than originally proposed because the original estimate was made some years back. The Belden Co. Inc. put in the lowest bid.
Gardening volunteers requested
Helen Richards-Peelle, principal at Wallingford Elementary, is appealing to local gardening enthusiasts for help as school opening approaches. School maintenance staff is busy getting the school ready for returning students and have no time to devote to the school’s gardens. She asks for volunteers to drop by and pick a garden to “spruce up.”
to Trinity Episcopal Church on its 150th anniversary
to Rutland Area Farm and Food Link on receiving $45,000 to use on an education campaign with Vital Communities. Funding by The Food and Farm Initiative of the Vermont Community Foundation targets giving all Vermonters a sense of ownership in local food and learning how to access those local foods regardless of income.