BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, December 21, the Bellows Falls Trustees discussed the United States Department of Agriculture Community Facilities Grants with the Development Office.
Development Director Gary Fox said the purpose of a public meeting for the USDA grants was to offer citizens an opportunity to become better acquainted with the project identified by Rural Development.
The Village of Bellows Falls intends to apply for $47,250 toward the $63,000 cost of fire fighting communications equipment.
The Bellows Falls Fire Department was looking to purchase stable, reliable 2-way radios and a shared Repeater to be installed on the Griswold Drive Tower to improve coverage for a longer range. Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis said that a Ham radio currently exists on Griswold. This grant would also pay for ten portable radios for the Village and six for the Rockingham Fire Department.
When asked if Saxtons River was included, Fox explained that the USDA has an algorithm for eligibility with an allotted percentage to be shared between towns and villages. Saxtons River was not eligible and the share between Rockingham and Bellows Falls was 25/75.
McGinnis said they had applied for a radio grant and that all three departments work together when the grant allows.
Wade Masure wondered about using the cell tower. Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said the cell tower was being decommissioned.
Pickup explained why the Bellows Falls Train Station project was on the Trustee agenda as it impacts the Village. He said, “it’s a gateway project” with the (Depot Street) bridge. Pickup mentioned this might impact the island and said, “there are exciting opportunities, working with all of the different agencies.”
Fox said the Town of Rockingham was pursuing $50,000 in grant funding with a $50,000 loan toward the purchase of the train station. He described the project timeline with voters approving $12,500 toward the feasibility study at the 2019 Town Meeting. That money had leveraged the 2020 USDA Rural Development grant for $12,500 and a Windham Regional Commission (WRC) Brownfields grant for Phase I study and a Hazardous Materials Assessment.
Fox said the completed studies were important before the purchase for the Town to be protected from contamination liability and also eligible for federal infrastructure grants. He said WRC was working with the Town and the Vermont Agency of Transportation on the State’s grant application for passenger station improvements on the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Amtrak lines.
Fox explained the funding was specific to eligible and shovel-ready projects which meant if the station was owned by an entity eligible for federal transit grants, preferably the Town, and the feasibility studies were completed.
Fox said the Town would not be borrowing funds but a vote at Town Meeting would approve a general obligation bond securing collateral for the USDA loan.
Fox said, if approved, the purchase would be finalized in July. Vermont Rail System will sell the station and various historic artifacts to the Town of Rockingham for $235,000.
James McAuliffe asked about funding. Fox said an article will ask Town voters to approve $50,000-75,000 with a match from the general fund.
McAuliffe said, “this is the kind of project that makes a lot of sense, because of current use. I think it’s great for Bellows Falls (and) the Town of Rockingham.”
Fox said that Amtrak has approved funding for American Disabilities Act upgrades including a new platform, improved bathrooms, signage, and extra lighting. He said the five-year rail plan includes doubling service.
The Bellows Falls Trustees meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.