HANCOCK/GRANVILLE — More than a dozen people crammed into Hancock’s town office on Oct. 18 to urge the selectboard to take steps to open the still-closed Upper Churchville Road.
Nearly two months after Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont, Granville and Hancock — the two Addison County towns hit hardest by the storm — are still finding it impossible to restore traffic on all town roads before the snow flies.
In Granville, Buffalo Farm Road is the only town road still closed, but Kathy Werner, town clerk and treasurer, said the town will not be able to fix the road before next spring. In Hancock, road commissioner Jim Leno said Texas Falls Road and the portions of Churchville Road that remain closed to through-traffic due to extensive damage will also not be fixed before the spring.
Jonathan Ashley, vice president of Middlebury-based Phelps Engineering, said the company’s estimated timeline for repairs calls for the bridge on Churchville Road to be fixed this fall and early winter. The firm will complete project permitting on the upper Churchville Road reconstruction project this November and hold off on construction until the spring.
Frustrated residents at the Hancock meeting voiced their worries about decreased accessibility while the road is still impassable. Instead of taking Churchville Road down to Route 100, residents must now take Fiske Road in Rochester, which was also damaged in the storm. Selectman Shelley Twitchell said the detour is the only way out for those residents who live above the slide, and it adds approximately seven miles to their normal route.
Due to concerns that Fiske Road might sustain further damage during the winter, town officials in Granville have spearheaded an $83,000 project that would upgrade and extend a class-four town highway some 500 feet between Buttles Road, an extension of Churchville, and Oak Lodge Road, bypassing Fiske entirely.
Attendees at the meeting questioned this solution, asking instead for a temporary fix to Churchville. Among citizen concerns was the time it will take first responders to arrive in case of an emergency, despite assurances from town officials that Rochester will also be responding to emergency calls on Upper Churchville throughout the winter.
“This is going to change everything for me,” said Bill Raul, one Upper Churchville homeowner. “Why was it left until last?”
Selectman Jack Ross said many of the emergency road repairs completed in the town happened because the residents had no other way out.
And Leno said that the Churchville Road repair will be a significant undertaking, as the road section will need to be entirely rebuilt to prevent another slide from happening.
In the meantime, the selectboard has said that it will have to put the Churchville Road repair to a town vote, as some estimates have placed the project costs at more than $1 million — significantly more than any of the other road repairs to date. While the town expects these repair costs to be heavily subsidized by FEMA and the state, that funding is still not guaranteed on the federal level, and Twitchell said the selectboard could not justify spending that amount of taxpayer money without putting it to a vote.
While Hancock and Granville wait for FEMA funding on their road repair projects, each is struggling to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars up front. So far, Granville has paid out almost $215,000 on its line of credit.
And at Tuesday’s meeting in Hancock, where the cost of just those projects undertaken so far totals more than $500,000, the selectboard voted to take out another loan for $750,000 to finance ongoing road repairs, to bring its flood-related loan tally to $1 million.
Though the towns are so far managing to fund needed road projects, Leno said there are other challenges to finalizing repairs on reopened town roads before the spring.
“The final repairs won’t happen unless a paver falls out of the sky,” said Leno.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.