Editorial: Shocking! AOT sees the light

In a news flash this Monday, April 1, Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn announced that the transportation board had studied numerous projects around the state and decided it was “absolutely critical” to reverse course and adopt an overall policy to "first, do no harm.”

“We have particularly studied our AOT projects through the centers of downtowns and determined that multi-year projects have been causing ‘undue harm’ on the business communities that too often have caused retailers and others to have to move or go out of business. In the future we plan to adopt the medical creed of ‘first, do not harm.’

“Our over-all goal in state government is to grow jobs,” Flynn continued, “and while we try to do that by creating a good infrastructure, it’s nonsensical to put firms out of business in the process… We finally see the light.”

Municipal leaders in Middlebury and Brandon were elated with the news.

“It’s downright shocking news,” said vice-chair of the Middlebury selectboard Nick Artim. “We salute Secretary Flynn and his team for understanding that we need to do everything we can in government to help these businesses, rather than giving them added burdens.”

Selectboard chairman Brian Carpenter agreed. “Over the course of the next two construction seasons (2019 and 2020), Middlebury’s downtown in the areas of Merchants Row and Main Street will be severely disrupted, and in the summer of 2020, the two rail bridges on Main and Merchants row will be removed completely and rebuilt, leaving this large area of the downtown without road access for 12 weeks or more. That’s just too much for them to bear without some help.”

Carpenter and Artim said they had not heard of the details of the program but were looking forward to more details.

When pressed on the issue, Sec. Flynn said the details of the new policy were just being firmed up, but it would go something like this: For road projects of more than 8 consecutive weeks in any given time period, the AOT would allocate a percentage of the total project costs to restoration of the profits lost by any retail or professional business during that period. To qualify a business will have to provide documentation of the monthly profits for the previous three years, and compare that to the diminished profits of the same month during the construction period. The percentage of the project will be based on how much money it will take to fully compensate those lost profits up to 30 percent,” Flynn said. That amount, agency officials later estimated, would be less than $1.5 million of the $72 million project in Middlebury. In Brandon, it would be about $750,000 of the $30 million three-year project.

Gov. Phil Scott called to weigh in on the change at the AOT as well.

“We’ve been hearing about the hardships our construction projects have been causing to business,” Scott said, “but just never thought it was a good business model to pay for the damage done. We considered it a necessary evil. But with the Brandon and Middlebury projects, the harm is of such a high scale that it seemed to beg a new solution. We concluded that if our job is to grow jobs, the first premise in state government should be to lose as few jobs as possible in the first place. With that thinking in mind, we shifted our strategy and I’m proud to say we’ll put the health of these small businesses first.”

Area businesses were surprised but obviously pleased.

 “It’s wonderful,” said Louis Pattis, co-owner of the Brandon Inn. “The construction has taken a toll. I’ve been here more than 30 years and never had back-to-back summers this bad. It’s tough to make ends meet, but this little bit of money will help us more than the Legislature will ever know.

In Midlebury, where the worst of the construction is yet to come in 2020, Nancy Dunn at Sweet Cecily said a little bit of funding to compensate for losses will go a long way to getting the businesses most likely to be hurt on the side of the AOT and help them survive the next two seasons. “It’s needed,” Dunn said. “All of our downtown businesses must be healthy if we’re to be a downtown that stays vibrant.”

Addison Independent editor-publisher Angelo Lynn had the last word: “If only this weren’t an April Fool’s editorial and Sec. Flynn of the AOT actually had changed the Agency’s policy to one that ‘did no harm,’” he said. “Wouldn’t that have been great! Unfortunately, all the comments here-in are fictional and we can only hope one day we can write this report for real.”

Angelo Lynn

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Addison County Independent