Chester Selectboard considers change to Chester Route 103 bridge project

CHESTER, Vt. – The Route 103 bridge project, a contentious topic for the town back in September of 2019, was once again before the Chester Selectboard during their March 17 meeting, with area residents voicing concern that the board may change their mind on how to reconfigure replacement of three bridges that span the Williams River along Route 103.

Back in 2019, VTrans proposed their preferred alternative to deal with the three bridges in need of repair along Route 103: Thompson Bridge, Jewett Bridge, and Palmer Bridge. In their preferred alternative, VTrans suggested constructing one bridge, at a new crossing location, to replace all three.

At that time, resident Amy Mosher, who owns a historic farm on the land impacted by the bridge project, made a plea to the Selectboard to choose Alternative 4, an option that would to help protect the “integrity and esthetic beauty” of their historic farm and not require exercising “imminent domain,” something that was a possibility for the VTrans preferred alternative.

Back then, the Chester Selectboard voted for Alternative 4, which will result in a full bridge replacement in a new location, removing both the Jewett and Thompson bridges, and make repairs to the Palmer Bridge, which were done shortly after the September 2019 decision.

Now, VTrans engineers are back before the board, showing them options for a project that could again bring up the possibility of going with another bridge configuration that was not approved by the board in 2019.

Board chairman Arne Jonynas admitted that he has gotten pushback from the town residents since VTrans seems to have changed the project from what the board decided.

Since that time, properties have been sold, including the property at the end of Palmer Bridge. The new owner called into the Selectboard meeting because he had been left a notice on the door that a project that impacted his property was being discussed. The homeowner admitted, however, that he was not aware of any impending bridge project when he bought the property, which Jonynas said was a big concern. The previously approved project would not impact the homeowner, but changes to the project would.

Amy Mosher was again before the board asking for the board to reaffirm the 2019 agreed upon alternative, saying she was “blindsided by this today.” In her prepared statement that she read to the board, she said that she trusted that the town was on the right path and that she thought “the issue of taking land was behind us.” She said she found out that day that condemnation of her land was still being proposed.

VTrans said that they were now beginning the next phase of engineering the project and wanted to make sure the board was still confident with their choice.

Jonynas said the board would not take any action on the matter that evening and that he would like to make sure everybody in the area is aware of what’s going on.

Board member Heather Chase said that some of properties involved are being sold right now and the board should make sure they’ve contacted people and let them know the situation. “I don’t believe that’s been done. I’m concerned about that,” she said. Still, Chase was open to revisiting the project that was selected saying that part of their job was to do their due diligence. “If the state is asking us to revisit this, we have to revisit it,” she said.

Board member Lee Gustafson said he was leaning towards sticking with what they had decided but wants to know all the numbers and what they’re getting into.

In 2019, the project was projected to cost $1.6 million, with the town being responsible for 10%. New changes in project funding from the state and federal may have the town responsible for as little as 2.5%, a positive development regardless of what project if finally selected.

The topic will again be revisited at the next Selectboard meeting Wednesday, April 7 at 6 p.m.

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