OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
JOINT SELECTBOARD/PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING MINUTES–DRAFT
November 28, 2017

 

This public information meeting on the North River Corridor Plan, conducted by John Bennett (Windham Regional Commission) and Evan Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald Environmental), opened at 6:00 p.m. in the Town Offices. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus, and Planning Commission members Turner Lewis, Patricia Dow, and Alice Aldrich were present, as were John Broker-Campbell (Vermont Agency of Natural Resources), Stephan Chait, Janet Taylor, Keith Stone, and Robbin Gabriel.

After a round of introductions, Bennett offered a brief overview and history of the study project, reminding the audience of the similar WRC/Fitzgerald Environmental Green River Corridor assessment completed several years ago (see https://halifaxvermont.com/selectboard/meeting-minutes/2014-10-23-joint-planning-commissionselectboard-meeting-minutes-draft/). The current North River study is being funded by an Ecosystem Restoration Program grant to Windham Regional Commission from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and Fitzgerald Environmental was hired to perform the study. The stream assessment portion of the project has been completed and Fitzgerald Environmental is now refining recommendations on actions that could help stabilize the stream, reduce flooding impacts, and improve water quality and habitat. Bennett invited questions and said people could also call or email him after tonight’s meeting.

Evan Fitzgerald said tonight’s presentation was intended to give the public a better understanding of river corridor conditions and provide an opportunity for questions and discussion. Bennett distributed a few draft copies of the assessment, and said he could also email electronic copies. He made it clear, however, this version was still in progress, and was not the final report. Another meeting is scheduled in Jacksonville on November 29th, as the study covered the East Branch/North River watershed area, which crosses town borders.

Fitzgerald, using PowerPoint slides with photos, charts, and maps, discussed the importance of floodplains during times of heavy water flow, and the potential for damage when those plains are encroached upon by development. He presented data on increased heavy rainfall occurrences in our area. The East Branch/North River watershed covers a 54 square mile area, most of it in Vermont. In Halifax, it includes the North River as well as Branch Brook. The first step in the assessment study was mapping of the river corridors and creating a breakdown of segments or reaches. Grant funding was not sufficient to cover study of the entire watershed, so in Phase Two sections were chosen for assessment of land use, channel modifications, floodplain condition, the form of the river, and bed and bank conditions. Field workers walked the channels, measuring width and depth, examining bank erosion, historic armouring, buffer conditions, and habitat. They also focused on bridges and culvert crossings, looking at general condition, width of openings compared to channel width, and adjacent erosion. Data gathered during the field study was then used to score structures for compatibility with the water channel and ease of aquatic passage. Fitzgerald made specific note of an important floodplain, or alluvial fan, at the North River/Branch Brook junction. Upstream of Halifax Falls, he said, are a number of adequate floodplain areas, whereas downstream, water passage narrows, leaving less space for flood waters to spread. In Jacksonville Village, development and constriction has greatly reduced floodplain availability. Branch Brook stability isn’t bad in comparison with the North River, Fitzgerald continued; there is less evidence of erosion, and the habitat is better.

Information gathered during the field study was compiled and used as a basis to create recommendations for potential projects designed to reduce flood risks and improve stability and aquatic habitat. Fitzgerald displayed a map keyed to define areas for consideration of agricultural management, berm removal, buffer planting, corridor protection, infrastructure resiliency, storm water outlets, and utility resiliency. He highlighted higher priority projects in Halifax, including floodplain corridor protection possibilities in several locations along Route 112, and water quality protection on Branch Brook. Fitzgerald, Bennett, and John Broker-Campbell all agreed that while Halifax zoning bylaws could be updated, the existing regulations provide a good degree of river corridor protection.

Throughout his presentation, Fitzgerald answered questions and responded to comments from the audience. He identified North River watershed origins and borders for Stephan Chait, clarified mapping identification keys for Alice Aldrich, and discussed—with Lewis Sumner and Keith Stone—a possible map inaccuracy at the eastern Vermont/Massachusetts border. Chait asked for a definition of the term flood resiliency and whether the assessment team had tested water quality. Bennett said the State does testing on a rotating basis, but this study did not include water quality sampling. Flood resilience, said Bennett, is a broad term covering a lot of things. It might be planting buffer vegetation on a vulnerable embankment, or replacing a too-small pipe with a larger water channel. Generally, said Broker-Campbell, resiliency is the ability to bounce back from any disaster event. Halifax, through its river corridor protection bylaws and adoption of State and Federal policies which give the Town maximum eligibility for reimbursement after a disaster, already has some flood resiliency tools in place. The projects recommended by the river corridor study provide a further opportunity to strengthen flood resilience, he added, but it’s a long process; these are not State-mandated projects with deadlines. Who would be responsible for buffer plantings and similar activities?, asked Turner Lewis. If the landowner is willing, responded Broker-Campbell, the Town can work with the owner and WRC to find funding. It’s the property owner’s land; the Town doesn’t take it over. The owner can’t be forced to undertake or fund these projects. Bennett gave as an example a coalition formed in the Saxton’s River watershed which, with landowner permission, High Meadows funding, and volunteer labor, has completed various flood resilience projects. There is another coalition coming together on the Green River, he said. Chait shared his knowledge of other similar High Meadows-funded projects, and said that lessons learned from those projects are guiding planning for future endeavors.

Is ANR starting to lean more toward stacked walls for armouring, rather than sloping the banks?, Brad Rafus asked. Broker-Campbell told him that yes, in certain situations, where space between road bed and water channel is limited and water forces aren’t too extreme, the preference is now for stacked walls. Rafus said that several areas on Green River Road, which were damaged in this year’s October storm, had been rebuilt after Irene using sloped banks. In 2011 there was no recommendation for stacked walls, but the current repair is utilizing that armouring method. There was further discussion about the challenges presented by the Green River, which shares a roadbed in a very narrow valley, and some general conversation about local dams. Keith Stone used one of Fitzgerald’s maps to pinpoint a problem area on his property near Larrabee Road and Route 112. The spot was rebuilt after Irene, said Stone, but the work was not finished. Stone talked with State workers while they were doing construction on Route 112 this year, telling them that with haying done, the timing was right for the State to complete the armouring and stabilize a telephone pole which is starting to wash out. He was told the project had not been scheduled or permitted, and could not be done at present. Stone expressed frustration that while property owners are being asked to help (in assisting with flood resilience projects), his attempt to work with the State met with failure.

In closing, Bennett invited suggestions for improvements on the river corridor presentation.

The meeting closed at 7:22 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Robbin Gabriel
Selectboard Secretary