Timing of grant at issue

BENNINGTON — Town Manager Stuart Hurd says the state Agency of Transportation should have denied the town's grant application for $340,000 that would been used to build a new salt shed.

Bennington was the only one of 18 towns that last fall turned down its share of some $6 million in state and federal grants distributed by VTrans. And at the Jan. 8 Select Board meeting, Hurd revealed that he had ordered the construction of a new salt and sand shed to proceed before a required state environmental permit had been approved. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating.

Hurd, in a letter to the editor on Monday, responded to an editorial in Saturday's edition that questioned why the town had declined grant money for the salt shed and called for transparency on how the decision to proceed without a state permit in building the structure on Bowen Road.

He explained that it was an issue of timing — the town only learned of the availability of the grant money after it had already begun the project — that led the town to reject the grant.

" Could the town have scrapped its entire effort and restarted the process? Perhaps, but grant funds can't be used to reimburse the Town for any design and permitting work done prior to the grant," he wrote.

Hurd called the federal grant application process "very lengthy and costly" and used the Pleasant Street enhancement grant as an example. The town received federal funding in 2008 for pavement and new lighting on Pleasant and School Streets.

"Ten years in the making," he wrote. "Can you imagine waiting even half that time before building the salt/sand shed?"

Voters in March 2017 approved a $3.2 million bond to purchase the former Plasan North America site at 78 Bowen Rd. under a plan to redevelop the building as a new public works facility. Part of that plan was to build a new shed to store sand and salt, road materials that have been kept at an aging facility on Orchard Road. That 80-by-80 foot building and a fuel depot was built on an existing parking lot.

The state Agency of Natural Resources issued the wetlands permit on Jan. 3, months after construction began on the salt shed. ANR approval was required because about 60 percent of the structure lies within a 50-foot buffer zone along Furnace Brook and its tributaries. It affects some 7,600 square feet of buffer zone; but no wetland.

Bid documents were sent out on Aug. 24.

"Concurrently, staff became aware of the Mitigation Grant program when a BCRC employee indicated that few applications had been submitted in the current round and funding might be available," Hurd said.

An application was filled out on the Battle Day holiday and sent to VTrans by the Aug. 15 deadline, Hurd said. VTrans sent the town's award letter on Sept. 25. Some $340,000 was awarded to the salt shed project. Those funds from the state's Municipal Highway and Stormwater Mitigation Program aimed to improve water quality.

" Suffice it to say that the work completed had not followed the first 18 steps in the federal process when the award was announced," Hurd wrote in his recent letter. "Based on that, the application should have been denied by VTrans."

"We didn't use the federal process; therefore, we were not eligible," Hurd wrote. "Given time constraints and cost considerations, we declined the grant."

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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