Rockingham Selectboard considers funding for Vilas Bridge

ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – On Tuesday, March 16 the Rockingham Selectboard discussed updating the town’s website and seeking federal relief funds for the Vilas Bridge project.

Bonnie North said she created the basic template structure of the website last year, but had “noticed inaccuracies” and missing items. Currently, the site is maintained by Town Planner Chuck Wise and Finance Director Shannon Burbela, and North wondered if any other staff member could help maintain the site.

Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said he wanted new staff to take this on, but they needed to be trained first. He said, “[The website] right now is pretty generic,” and suggested the board have a broader discussion for the type of website they wanted to host. He mentioned municipality websites ranged from simple municipal ones to more comprehensive sites offering business, real estate, lodging, points of interest, and resources.

North suggested this was a good topic for a working meeting. She said she was available for free to train staff and was also willing to volunteer “to create a more marketing oriented site for the town.”

Rick Cowan asked if they wanted a site for both visitors and residents. North mentioned that the previous manager Wendy Harrison supported a website for both, but when Chuck Wise became the interim manager he felt that it should be just a municipal website and visitors should be directed to a separate one.

Chair Peter Golec suggested this was a discussion for another meeting, and the board agreed to schedule a working meeting for website details. North recommended that they add the content removed last year, including pictures, mapping information, resources, and local links.

During the Tuesday meeting, Pickup also presented the board with updates on the Vilas Bridge. Currently, the bridge is on the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s 2021-2030 ten-year plan with preliminary engineering scheduled for 2023. The state of New Hampshire owns 85% of the bridge but has committed to funding 50% of the $10.2 million project.

Pickup explained that the House of Representatives had changed their stimulus funding, replacing the earmarks eliminated in 2011 with community project funding opportunities. These are provisions that direct funds toward specific projects with heavy community support and each member of Congress is awarded 10 of these projects for their districts.

Pickup said there was a small window for the town to reach out to Rep. Peter Welch to show support for the Vilas Bridge project. Pickup suggested the town ask for the full $10 million. The deadline is April 15; however, Congress is on recess from April 6-17. He said Sen. Patrick Leahy had indicated he was in favor of the new funding process.

Susan Hammond agreed with Pickup. “We should jump on this.” She said she didn’t see New Hampshire adding the Vilas Bridge to their list of 10 projects, but maybe a letter of support from New Hampshire representatives would help.

North said that she had been in contact with J.B. Mack Principal Planner of the Southwest Region Planning Commission and Sue Westa and Chris Campany from Windham Regional Commission. She had asked them if Bellows Falls collaborated with Walpole, would that help the town to receive an earmark from Congress or Senate. Mack responded that Bellows Falls and Walpole should put this front and center, and Campany agreed that a shared position between the towns would be helpful.

North said there was also a grant available that two states could apply for together called the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grant. She said, “I think we could be more cooperative and more respectful of [Walpole’s] challenges.” North asked to be appointed as initial liaison with Walpole on joint grant applications and community funding projects.

Golec said the full board had met with the Walpole Selectboard two years ago and suggested because this was not on the agenda it should be discussed at their next Selectboard meeting. Cowan moved to appoint North as liaison with Walpole for informational purposes to be ratified at a later meeting, and Hammond seconded the motion.

Pickup asked for clarification on the Vilas Bridge resolution for Congress, and the board agreed the next steps would be to contact Rep. Welch and Sen. Leahy.

The Rockingham Selectboard’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 7. Monthly meetings are now on the first Wednesday and third Tuesdays of each month in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House at 6 p.m. The Joint Board meeting is Tuesday, March 30 at 6 p.m.

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