News Briefs
October 8, 2015

News Briefs: Rutland Region

By Lani Duke

Infrastructure failure continues to perplex

Underground drinking water lines must be replaced this year, says Rutland City public works commissioner Jeff Wennberg. There are more than 100 miles of them, the oldest laid down before Abraham Lincoln was elected but still supplying water to some residences.

Rutland’s oldest water pipes were laid three years before Abraham Lincoln became president, and they are still carrying water to some residents. Rutland’s aging pipes are not unique. Many American municipalities laid their earliest water lines at the time, with the same degree of replacement and upkeep.

To draw water from available resources, then purify it before it enters user households and businesses and again after it leaves them, is becoming a bigger and bigger expense. The original infrastructure is crumbling, weather vagaries cause either shortages or over-abundance, and federal requirements become ever more stringent. Nor is it only farm runoff that pollutes, but also water cascading off roofs and parking lots, contaminated with auto exhaust, rubber, and animal waste.

The city needs to figure on spending $1 million a year for 100 years, Wennberg commented. An estimated $13.4 million in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan aid lies waiting in Vermont out of a national $1 billion+ pool remaining unspent.

Another side of Rutland’s water conundrum remains on Melrose Avenue and North Street. Buildings at 17 Melrose and 12 North both are bedeviled by basements that don’t dry out. The Board of Aldermen visited both homes September 28 to see for themselves and informally agreed that there must be some abatement.

Environmental firm ECS is digging test wells to pinpoint the source of the runaway water. High manganese content may indicate a ground water source, not a pipe leaking city-treated water. The company is also working for the state in tracing fossil fuel contamination entering the water. It is logging water temperature and level at five locations, through mid-October.

Alley shaping up

While the city considers design across Merchants Row, the city has begun removing bricks from Center Street Alley and moving them to the Vermont Farmers Food Center. The bricks may be reused to brick Baxter Street alley and walkways to VFFC’s various buildings, the work to be done by volunteer labor.

Back on Center Street, the city will overrun its $974,000 earmark for reconstructing the open air marketplace that will remained an unrealized dream since its first remake a number of years ago. Additional grants from the Vermont Agency of Transportation may help with “added features,” including lighting, landscaping and art.

Apparently not enough was allocated initially to provide much needed stormwater drainage, so that this park would not suffer from the humping and bumping that plagued the older version of the Center Street Alley, the one-time stableyard behind the livery stable next to the hotels that faced the train station. It needs more fill, soil studies reveal, which further kicks up the cost, exacerbated by the delay from prolonged right-of-way issue clearance.

Once receiving state design clearance, the city can let the project out for bid, with a contract expected to be awarded before the year ends.

Something new, something old for Rutland PD

Autumn begins for the Rutland City PD with a new data portal, new police chief, and an old lawsuit. Good progress toward an increasingly transparent police department. Two databases are part of a nationwide Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Rutland is the only Vermont city participating in the program.

The public may now access the new website, https://data.rutlandcitypolice.com/ that provides a host of data for citizens to learn about police activity. A table displaying Use of Force data, listed by date and case number, includes the offense the officer was called to remedy, whether he or she made an arrest, whether the officer was injured, and the officer’s rank, age, and race.

Another table lists police-community involvement: date and time, which officers took part, location, and a short description.

A third web portal, accessed through www.crimereports.com by selecting Rutland as the area of interest, reveals a map of Rutland with labels pointing to places where theft, sexual assault, simple assault, and theft from vehicle reports were logged. Police have begun to use this type of database this year to determine where to increase or decrease patrols.

But the Rutland Police Commission seemingly fouled its transparency rating to a degree when chairman Lawrence Jensen asked the Rutland City Board of Aldermen to approve the new chief’s contract without revealing his identity. Both Jensen and mayor Chris Louras said that all the aldermen had to do was approve the contract, not the candidate. The aldermen, or at least some of them, prefer to see the designated candidate’s resume. But the committee and the mayor have contended that the man’s name and qualifications are outside the board’s purview. While many knew who it was, the announcement had not been made public at the Sept. 28 meeting.

The contract  would run for five years beginning Nov. 2, 2015, and remain in effect until Nov. 1, 2020. The new chief will attend all police commission meetings and meet with that group’s chair once a week. He will be living in the city inside nine months and will be available 24/7 electronically.

The commission has been part of police department governance since the 1980s, as conceived by Art Crowley, former alderman, deputy attorney general, state’s attorney, and city attorney. Crowley saw the commission as taking over police department oversight, which had been soaking up too much of the aldermen’s meeting time. He and then alderman Nick Barone devised the commission and a change in the city charter to establish the group. Approval had to come from not only the aldermanic board but also the mayor and the state legislature.

That first commission called for police chief Paul Benson to resign. He did.

It now creates the police budget, gives the chief direction and assesses his or her performance, and intervenes in personnel issues that seem to be irresolvable under everyday conditions. However, some (or more) personnel issues are outside its reach because the police union also has intervention power.

The union contract apparently prohibits the commission’s involvement in the racism accusations against the department by Cpl. Andrew Todd, scheduled for trial in early 2016. The city attorney has told commission leader Jensen that an internal affairs investigation report is off-limits.

With a new police department leader, many new personnel, and a number of new aldermen, there is said to be a completely different and improved organizational culture within the city’s police department. However, some retired officers resent that thinking, believing that they should not be “tarred with the same brush” as the individuals who were the cause for Todd’s complaint.

The future of Depot Park

Should Depot Park be deposed? The Community and Economic Development Committee has voted to look for a grant to fund a study on eliminating Depot Park in favor of turning Evelyn Street into a pedestrian mall. Right now, the city is looking at what Rutland Redevelopment Authority executive director Brennan Duffy describes as a “multiyear process” and a “design concept.”

Currently, the plan features commercial development on parcels on either side of Evelyn Street, which becomes a pedestrian walkway, and Freight Street, at the north end of Rutland Shopping Plaza, reformatted as a complete street. The plan would result in a net increase in green space over a wider area, trading Depot Park to plaza owner Brixmore Property Group in exchange for alternative green space development.

The farmers’ market is pretty much the only major, consistent user for the park, although the park often also sees use as a venue for other special downtown events. Many of those may, however, move to Center Street Alley once its transformation takes place.

Depot Park has been a very attractive feature of the Rutland City center, and a key element in city history. Influential tycoons and politicians have stepped off and on the train, crossing through Depot Park to lodge at the Bardwell and other local hotels. But the park has suffered diminished attractiveness in recent years, with the loss of its benches and period style lamp posts, and overall lack of maintenance. Also, repeated use during farmers market season leaves worn areas in the turf.

Congratulations…

to Rutland Town for its new Joseph J. Denardo Center Rutland fire station on Business-4 in Center Rutland. Add this lovely building to the list of improvements that revitalize the Center Rutland corridor.

to Phoenix Books on its grand opening in downtown Rutland.

to Christopher LaFlamme on the “soft opening” for LaFlamme’s Furniture Mall in the former JCPenney space at Diamond Run Mall.

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