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BENNINGTON — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch got a close-up look at Bennington’s past and future in a visit to downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods late Friday morning.

Welch, D-Vt., the state’s lone member of the House of Representatives, spent time in and around the Four Corners, on a residential street where the town’s lead line remediation project is in progress, and a visit to a substance misuse residential treatment program in honor of its 50th anniversary.

Along the way, Welch was touting the $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan the U.S. House of Representatives passed in August, and how it might benefit Vermont communities like Bennington.

The prime example of infrastructure spending in action was found at Welch’s first stop of the morning: Division Street, where workers from MSK Engineering and Design and the town of Bennington were digging up a water line connection for testing. The town is in the first phase of a lead water line abatement project, and workers explained to Welch how the work is progressing, and why having $11 million in state revolving water fund dollars up front has made a big difference.

Town Manager Stuart Hurd, state Rep. Mary Morrissey, state Sen. Brian Campion, Bennington Select Board chair Jeannie Jenkins and interim Better Bennington Corp. director Mike McDonough joined workers who paused for a Q and A with Welch.

In addition to the economic justice implications of addressing potential lead contamination in drinking water, “it’s transformative for the public outreach process when we have funding available,” said Liam McRae of MSK Engineering and Design. “It’s not just the money it’s it’s there’s something about in the same sitting in what you’re informing somebody that they might be at risk that you have to come in and apply to mediation to that risk now as opposed to having several steps.

Welch said projects such as the Bennington lead abatement initiative show how infrastructure is a bipartisan issue that can bring people of different political beliefs together for the common good.

“With this stuff, it doesn’t matter who you voted for. We all want clean water,” Welch said.

He later expressed confidence that the infrastructure bill will pass and be signed into law.

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“It is a complicated process, but at the end of the day we’re going to pass it,” Welch said. “It had very strong bipartisan support in the Senate 60 votes. And President Biden negotiated on the amendment. So I believe that we’re going to pass it.”

From there, it was on to the Bennington Bookstore’s new home in the Putnam Block, where the venerable retailer, with roots extending back to 1928, has been open since June. Owner Linda Foulsham told Welch that the business has seen more visitors since moving to the new location, and has benefitted from newly available off-street parking.

Before leaving, Welch picked up a copy of “Bennington in World War II,” a new book by Anthony Marro. The bookstore will be hosting Marro for a book discussion Sunday at 4 p.m.

“It was tough when the pandemic hit, so I want to thank you for all the work you did to support us,” Foulsham said.

“Did that work out?” Welch asked.

“Absolutely,” Foulsham replied.

“I feel good about that,” Welch said. “If you remember the financial crisis in 2008, all the big banks got bailed out and everybody who was the collateral damage had to end for themselves At least this time we focused on Main Street instead of Wall Street.”

From there, it was off to 421 Craft Bar and Kitchen, W. Collective, and SEALL Inc. on Depot Street, in honor of that program’s 50th anniversary. Since 1971, SEALL has been offering community based residential treatment programs at its Depot Street locations.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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