At its first meeting in May, the Bennington Select Board began to consider the impact of poorly maintained properties and vacant properties on the community. The initial discussions were created by the presentation of a staff-developed ordinance. The staff believe that poorly maintained properties (including those that are vacant or abandoned) have a deleterious effect on the surrounding properties and neighborhoods. All of us have seen or felt theses impacts. We recognize that some property owners may not have sufficient income to improve or dress up their property. However, those that own property have a responsibility to maintain it to a minimum standard with the income available. The ordinance proposed attempts to define what is considered poorly maintained. It focuses on structural safety, blight, dilapidation, broken windows, junk and rubbish strewn about the exterior of a building, and poorly maintained vegetation including shrubs, trees and lawns.
The select board's concerns focused on language to better define the problem, on whether this should deal only with commercial properties or all properties, on whether or not to differentiate based on land use regulations impacting the property, on the importance of maintaining vacant property as well, and on the financial impacts this might have on property owners, mortgage holders, and other lien holders. The staff will continue its work to address the concerns Board members raised. We are also looking to the community to weigh in. A second draft is now being developed and should be available for review within the week. Please contact my office if you have any questions.
The area of PFOA contamination continues to grow. Wells in the Walloomsac Road area have been found to be contaminated. Wells east of Route 7 in the Houghton Lane, Michaels Drive and Apple Hill areas are also impacted. Testing is now moving south to Route 9 on the west and south of Houghton Lane on the east. For those impacted, bottled water will continue to be provided. For those in the Houghton Lane area, D's Market and Deli is carrying the bottled water. Currently Saint-Gobain is installing point of contact carbon filter systems in impacted homes. These filter systems have been found to be very successful in removing the compound from drinking water. If you are in the areas affected and need more information, call 2-1-1 for general information or visit the DEC website at Vermont DEC PFOA Response Page. The state will assist you. The town of Bennington and the North Bennington Water System are cooperating in an engineering study to determine the feasibility and the cost to provide municipal water to the affected areas.
In response to this, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) with cooperation from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center are conducting blood draws at the Vermont Health Department at 324 Main St. through Thursday, May 12. These tests are offered at no cost to eligible individuals by appointment only. One may contact the Vermont Department of Health at 800-439-8550. A second blood draw is scheduled toward the end of May.
On a more positive note, we are beginning to see signs of an improving economy here in Bennington. A number of new businesses have opened or are preparing to open in downtown, the Walmart project is moving at great speed, and several new businesses have opened on Northside Drive and in the other commercial districts.
Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 802-442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.
Stuart Hurd is Bennington's town manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.