Bellows Falls Trustees discuss connectivity study grant

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Development Director Gary Fox approached the Bellows Falls Village Trustees about a Better Connections Grant for a connectivity study on the island and Riverfront Park.

The Better Connections Grant is funded by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Agency of Natural Resources, and Department of Health. Fox explained the grant combines economic development and transportation and would pay for a connectivity study on the island and what Fox referred to as “under the hill,” the land under Westminster Street east to the Connecticut River.

Fox said, “[It’s a] great opportunity to get this work done… We’ve been laying the groundwork for a couple of decades.”

The feasibility studies completed from 2002 to the present involved streetscape plans, the train station, and pedestrian access to the Riverfront Park. This connectivity stage bridges the gap between the feasibility studies and project completion.

Fox said short-term outcomes included roads, sidewalks, and utilities to the Robertson site as early as fall of 2021 and long-term outcomes would include alternate access to the Riverfront Park and Trail System.

Mill Street is currently the only access to the Riverfront Park, and Fox pointed out the steep road ended in a blind curve over the railroad tracks and lacked a sidewalk. With the addition of truck traffic, it made pedestrian access unsafe.

James McAuliffe was concerned with the primary focus of the grant. “Is it consistent with redevelopment, better environment, and job creation?”

Fox explained that the transportation plan would identify the connectivity between pedestrian and vehicular access throughout downtown, the neighborhoods, and the island. He added that the grant, consisting of state and federal funding, required “robust public engagement.” He has connected with the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project, the Great Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce, Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation, the Abenaki, and town and village requesting letters of support and willingness to work with the consultants.

Fox said this would ensure “the transportation master plan fits the purposes of [each] property” and would coordinate with the area-wide plan study beginning this spring.

He added that there was also a clean water initiative grant of $30,000 with no match that would enable advanced engineering to research creative ways to treat stormwater on the island.

Fox requested village support of the resolution, explaining their involvement would make the application more competitive and ease future sewer and water planning. The Trustees passed the resolution.

Municipal Manager Scott Pickup also updated the Trustees on the Better Places Grant. The grant supports electric work to light the tree and flagpole in the Fireman’s Memorial Park designed by Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio. Pickup said the completion goal was December 2021 for dedication on the 40th anniversary of the Star Hotel Fire where volunteer firefighters Terry Brown and Dana Fuller lost their lives in 1981.

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