On September 6, 2017

Mendon Select Board negotiates evacuation route with Forest Service

By Julia Purdy

MENDON—At its regular meeting Monday, Aug. 28, the Mendon Select Board devoted about half an hour to negotiating the wording for an easement involving a small section of old road in Mendon for emergency purposes, where it passes through Mendon’s portion of the Rolston Rest national forest purchase lands. The next meeting to continue the discussion is set for Monday, Sept. 11.

Present were District Ranger Chris Mattrick of the U.S. Forest Service in Rutland, Kate Wanner of the Trust for Public Land, Mendon Select Board members Scott Bradley, Geoff Wells and chair Richard Wilcox, as well as Town Administrator Sarah Tully. A small audience was also present.

The Green Mountain National Forest is in the process of purchasing a tract of deep forest land known as Rolston Rest, after the name of the Long Trail shelter there. Since the federal acquisition process is slow, the Trust for Public Land has bought the property outright and will transfer it to the national forest when the  funding is in place.

The purchase lands encompass about 2,800 acres under private and public ownership above Chittenden Reservoir. Stakeholders include the Green Mountain National Forest, Chittenden, Mendon and Killington, as well as the owners of several private camps in Chittenden and the Green Mountain Club, which manages the Long Trail under an easement with the state of Vermont. The interim purchase brings the ownership rights under one umbrella.

With the memory of Irene fresh in their minds, the Mendon Select Board felt it was desirable to retain an emergency exit out of the area, accessing Route 100 via Elbow Road in Killington. In an emergency such as a major forest fire or disaster that shut down Route 4, Chittenden and Killington would have the option to use it as well. Town Administrator Sarah Tully told the Mountain Times that the town had requested an access agreement to be worked out in exchange for the Select Board’s official support of the land purchase and the resulting loss of tax revenue. The town of Mendon would retain control of the road’s use, Tully said.

The emergency route incorporates a stretch of old logging road, formerly used by timber company A. Johnson, that connects Old Turnpike Road on the west and Elbow Road on the east. Both Old Turnpike and Elbow are legal trails belonging to Mendon.

The group pored over the wording of a draft easement document. Wilcox raised a number of questions concerning the responsibilities of the town, specifically, signage on the road, upgrade and maintenance, and permitting.

Mendon would maintain the road for emergency use only, as determined by the town, Tully told the Mountain Times later. The town would be expected to post signage and barriers to prevent people straying off-road and to avoid confusion. Wilcox commented that the town attorney had cautioned against possible town liability if people ignored the postings.

Because the Green Mountain National Forest would continue ownership of the underlying land, hikers would be subject to national forest regulations.

Mendon would also be responsible for any upgrades and maintenance, either using its own equipment or contracting the work. High-clearance vehicles can currently negotiate it but any improvements would be determined by the type of disaster and would be strictly temporary. Emergency maintenance would not require a permit, Mattrick explained.

Wilcox asked if the town should expect to maintain the road to accommodate emergency equipment in advance of when needed. Mattrick stated that the Forest Service has no particular expectation for that, although Chittenden has decided to be proactive in that regard. He said that maintaining it as a Class 4 road is the baseline. The national forest has no use for this road, he added.

As for routine maintenance, Mattrick explained that if and when the land passes to the Green Mountain National Forest, “ground disturbance” such as culvert replacement or beaver dam intervention would require a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. The permitting time frame varies but would require a public hearing and analysis of the various natural resources affected, he said. There would be no cost to the town for the analysis, he added.

The details still being negotiated. Tully said she thinks the next draft will be closer to the final one. Once finalized, the easement document will be recorded in the land records along with a survey and will run with the d in perpetuity. The emergency route will be added to the town emergency plan.

Also signed on Monday night was a memorandum of understanding with the town of Chittenden to look into organizing Barstow School and the North Chittenden Grange Hall as emergency shelters. Both Mendon and Chittenden are part of the Barstow Unified Union school district. The proposal still needs approval from the school district and the Red Cross, Tully said.

“We’re awfully happy that all of the heads are coming together here,” she commented.

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