Ferrisburgh mulls town-city land survey; might throw wrench in truck route

I think we need to take this opportunity … to have an authoritative survey of the town line. — Ferrisburgh Selectman Clark Hinsdale

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday agreed to write to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) in support of the proposed $39 million truck route through northern Vergennes. But the board might decide to include a condition that could endanger a project that VTrans officials say requires regional support.

The board asked Chairman Rick Ebel to write a draft letter that would not only support the truck route but also seek a survey to establish the true boundaries of Vergennes and Ferrisburgh.

That issue arose in 1996 after an amateur historian uncovered evidence that the city is larger than originally intended when it was founded in 1788, but Ferrisburgh officials eventually accepted the status quo.

Surveyor Timothy Cowan researched the question for the Ferrisburgh selectboard in the summer of 1996. He wrote that a modern surveyor could pin down the original intent of the Vergennes charter when the city was carved out of Ferrisburgh, Panton and New Haven.

“The original lotting scheme in Ferrisburgh is still quite visible,” Cowan wrote back then. “This means surveyors today would be able to retrace the original lot lines and corners in the subject area with a reasonable amount of certainty.”

City officials back then did not contest the fact that Vergennes is probably 1,600 acres rather than the intended 1,200 acres. But they said that 200-year-old highway surveys indicated boundaries had been established then; homes and businesses now paying city sewer rates would not want to pay higher-out-of-town rates; and evidence on the ground, such as stakes and stones on lot corners, would not be easy to find. They declined Ferrisburgh’s offer to split the cost of a survey.

State lawmakers said the Legislature would be unlikely to intervene. Panton and Waltham selectboard members at an April 1997 meeting said they preferred the status quo, in part because the Town and Country Trailer Park and Maple Manor — at that point within the Vergennes boundaries — could be added to those towns, and school financing laws at that time would not have favored those changes for those communities. After that meeting Ferrisburgh officials abandoned the effort.

Now, VTrans officials have said they are willing to fast-track — in relative terms, they are still talking in terms of a decade — a new alternative truck route that would run completely in what is commonly understood to be Vergennes.

Route 22A is the major truck route in northwestern Vermont, and about 800 trucks rumble through the city’s downtown daily, more than through any other comparable downtown in the state.

Heading northward, the tentative route would leave Route 22A at a roundabout, cross Panton Road, soar over Otter Creek on a new bridge, bisect Comfort Hill, and then rejoin Main Street/Route 22A just north of the city’s police station at another roundabout.

VTrans officials have emphasized that backing from all of the city’s neighboring towns is a crucial factor in the agency’s decision to proceed. Another factor for the agency was the project’s potential economic benefit to the region.

A study conducted by a consulting company concluded not only would the city’s downtown benefit from the removal of most truck traffic, but also the new road through undeveloped land in northern Vergennes could create new economic opportunity.

City and regional planning officials envision housing as a potential major component of new development along the new road, which they call the Vergennes Economic Corridor. New housing could help the Addison Northwest School District’s declining enrollment.

On Tuesday Ferrisburgh Selectman Clark Hinsdale raised the boundary issue after real estate broker Carl Cole brought the 1990s debate to his attention. Hinsdale said the new road could run in other towns.

“I think we need to take this opportunity … to have an authoritative survey of the town line,” Hinsdale said.

Hinsdale also cited a statute that reads, “When the legislative bodies of adjoining municipalities are unable to agree as to the location of a municipal line, or in the absence of a clearly definable charter line, the legislative bodies shall sign a written agreement to submit to arbitration.”

After discussion, the board on Tuesday agreed that Ebel should write a draft letter supporting the new road, but that the draft should also include language seeking a survey. The board will consider the letter in September.

Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz on Wednesday acknowledged it is possible that a legal dispute about town lines could delay or even derail the proposed truck route, but he said he is optimistic all parties would see the overall pluses involved.

“I don’t necessarily see it as an obstacle to moving forward. And I also would like all of our neighboring towns to know we are in the spirit of cooperation to make this happen, and it’s a regional project, not just a city project,” Fritz said. “We’ll figure this out.”

 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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