By Trina Bianchi
Mud season in our town of Charlotte is a thing of the past! As Road Commissioner Jr Lewis explained, substantial upgrades have been completed over the years to improve the longevity of all the miles of dirt roads in our town. Now, when we do experience severe weather, the damage incurred on these roads has been minimal and readily repaired—when other dirt roads in Vermont turn into muddy quagmires, the ones in Charlotte are the same as in the summer!
Physical infrastructure can run the gambit from roads and transportation to emergency shelters to cell service to stormwater and waste management, and the survey covered all of that and more. At this community discussion, hosted by Jim Hyde and Chris Davis, Jr also explained how partnering with Chittenden Regional Planning has provided engineering expertise, some funding, and we now have accurate mapping of all the culverts in Charlotte. Asked whether the roads could be widened providing a bike/pedestrian lane, he indicated that many of our roads could be widened…with funding. New regulations require that any new project has to accommodate bicycles and walkers; all the work done on the dirt roads was done prior to this regulation.
Much discussion ensued around the speeding problem within the town and the acknowledgment that many, if not most, of us tend to drive faster than we need to in town. The lack of any enforcement to stay within the limits within Charlotte was cited, using the example of following people from Charlotte into Shelburne and seeing brake lights as soon as folks hit the Shelburne town line. One suggestion was to have the Vermont State Police sit at a known place where people tend to speed and write tickets—no warnings, just tickets—with the thought that once people realized that there was some level of enforcement in town, that driving speeds might start to slow down. My understanding from the discussion is that there is a formula that has to be used in order to lower speed limits and it’s based on how fast people currently drive. So ,if many or most of us are continually exceeding the current posted speed limit when the data is collected, those limits cannot be lowered. Having read the recent FPF post about the vehicle that ignored the four-way stop sign, the bottom line is that we might all want to take a deep breath and decide to leave our house a bit earlier so that we can all take our time getting to wherever we are going, making our roads safer for all.
As the largest vote getter in town, Jr gave credit to his spouse, Leslie, and his crew for doing a great job each and every day, resulting in his receiving the votes! We can all hope that he is willing to continue to tackle this responsibility for many more years. If Charlotte needs to go the route of having our own municipal road department, we are looking at finding a location for a building and making a huge investment in equipment. We, in Charlotte, are very fortunate that Jr and Leslie have made their home here.
The next topic addressed was that of public facilities. Carolyn Kulik, Director of the Charlotte Senior Center, addressed the issue of emergency shelters in town and noted that the center is designated as an emergency center but is currently not equipped to serve in that capacity. The Senior Center does have a generator, but does not have a great WIFI connection and has no equipment—no beds, no bedding, no extra water. In order for the center to be a shelter in an emergency, they need a support structure to be able to serve in that capacity. It was suggested that the town needs a listing of potential disaster scenarios with specific needs attached to each; included in this listing should be where could people be sheltered, how many people could be sheltered at each place, and what support structures are in place at each location.
Chris Davis, Emergency Management Director for our town, talked about working with Emergency Management at the state level and how they will work with the local team to get equipment if and when a disaster occurs. If the disaster is widespread, the emergency shelter could be designated in Burlington or another location. Currently, people could be sheltered, if necessary, at the Town Hall, the Senior Center and possibly the Charlotte Library under certain conditions; it was noted that all of these are located in the West Village. Chris said it would be helpful to have a listing of folks in town who could assist with sheltering folks in their own home if necessary. It was suggested that various neighborhoods could initiate their own emergency management plans, talking with each other and noting resources available in their own neighborhoods.
The other question posed was the future of the Senior Center and how a potential new Community Center could affect that. Noted were the facts that currently a high percentage of the people accessing the Senior Center are from surrounding neighboring towns as opposed to all Charlotte residents, that people are now retiring later, that the number of people willing to volunteer is decreasing and volunteers are crucial to the operation of the center, and the acceptance, especially since the pandemic, of people willing to use Zoom to connect. One could ponder what all that means for the center down the road.
Peter Joslin, Planning Commission Chair, addressed his concerns about a total power outage in our town, referring back to what happened after the ice storm. This led to the concern about how dependent we are on good communication, especially in a disaster situation. Chris Davis explained how Fire and Rescue are totally dependent on new age technology for all communication, including the locating of various properties. So when cell towers are overburdened or totally fail, which is what occurred during the ice storm, all their modes of communication fail—no GPS, pull out the paper map! The survey did show that close to 40% of the respondents indicated that cell service and/or broadband accessibility was not up to par. This writer knows this for a fact as I don’t have reliable cell service at my home and I know there are other dead areas in our town. The bottom line is that Vermont as a state is 47th out of 50 in terms of broadband accessibility. Mike Yantachka reported that Vermont has funding to address the broadband issue and that the Department of Public Service is establishing a new board to allocate these monies.
Public transportation was discussed briefly. There used to be a CCTA and VT Transit bus that stopped at the garage at the intersection of Route 7 and Ferry Road. Even if that were to be re-established, our park and ride area is at the old train station, more than a little jaunt from Route 7. The question then arose: “If it were provided, would people actually come?” More than one individual questioned whether or not people would even use public transportation. Culturally, for whatever reason, in Vermont we are not mass transit users. A case in point: how many of our school-age kids ride the school bus? I know when I drive by CCS before or after school, I see an endless line of cars picking up or dropping off kids and near empty buses—not sure when that changed as in the ‘dark ages’ when I was in school, everyone rode the bus. Times do change!
The discussion was informative and covered a lot of territory. Kevin Goldenbogen, one of the leaders of CCP, indicated that the goal, once all the community discussions on the survey were completed, was to produce a report summarizing what we’ve learned from both the survey itself and the ensuing discussions to share with the various organizations in town. Hopefully, that will lead to more discussion and action being taken to make us more resilient.