By Curt Peterson
Vocal resistance to the proposed reconfiguration of the Three Corners intersection in Hartland dominated the local listserv since Select Board member Jim Reilley responded to public comment to make a motion to delay sending out requests for proposals to contractors regarding the project.
It was a last minute opportunity for the democratic process to stop a major construction effort that had been moving slowly but relentlessly forward since a 2014 Town Meeting vote approving the idea.
Although four on the Select Board voiced doubts about sending the RFPs in early January, not one was willing to second Reilley’s motion, and the bid requests were sent on Jan. 4. Bids are due on or before Feb. 10.
A near-accident 30 years ago involving a small child crossing the intersection, inspired local concern about safety issues, leading to the 2014 Town Meeting discussion.
Besides the 2014 approval by 150-plus Town Meeting attendees, voters had an opportunity to disapprove or approve the project in 2020, when an Australian Ballot article proposed borrowing $1,062,000 using a municipal bond. The cost had grown from about a half million dollars to that amount reflecting a more professional estimate and burying utility lines at the intersection was included for aesthetic reasons.
Voters approved the 2020 article by a margin of two-to-one.
Delays due to Covid and negotiations with the Agency of Transportation delayed action, bringing the latest estimate to $400,000 more than the 2020 proposal. Ormiston said the town has discretionary funds to make up the difference already in the budget.
Robert Foote testified that the entire project would have a miniscule influence on the municipal tax rate.
Once Reilley’s motion failed, reality favored the project going forward. When the bids are opened, Town Manager David Ormiston said, if one or more is below or near the latest cost estimate, the Select Board will have the final decision to make. If they reject the bids and return the grant provided by the state, bridges with grantors and the contractors will be burned.
Select Board chair Phil Hobbie said Hartland has some significant housing projects on the drawing board, and aborting the intersection may jeopardize chances for state help with those.
The horse obviously out of the barn, a few of the 1,000-plus members of the Hartland listserv demanded a revote on the project, suggesting major changes in the planned reconfiguration, denying safety issues at the complicated interchange, wrongly claiming a major effect on municipal tax rates, claiming inevitable cost overruns, and attempting to rally an email campaign to select persons and the town manager demanding a stop to the project.
Hobbie told the Mountain Times there were “too many (emails) to count. Many were inaccurate or not clear what change they wanted. And positive emails were interspersed among the negative rants.”
Ormiston said it would be impossible to count how many emails each board member and he received as a result of the effort. The “cons” came to him in a flutter at first, and were followed by quite a few “pros” as well.
Closing the Jan. 17 public discussion, Hobbie pointed out there 2,000-plus registered voters in Hartland, and, while the Select Board welcomes everyone who attends their meetings and expresses their opinions, the 10 who testified that evening should not necessarily be considered representatives of the majority of voters.