Hurd: Grant rejection didn't affect salt shed project

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BENNINGTON — Last fall, when Bennington was informed it had received a $340,000 share of $6 million in state and federal grants distributed by the state Agency of Transportation, it did something that none of the other 17 towns awarded grants did: It turned the money down.

Joel Perrigo, project manager for the VTrans, told the Banner on Wednesday that the town turned down the grant in a telephone call, and later an email, explaining that construction had already begun. "Their project had advanced to a point that it was no longer eligible for the funds that had been awarded," he said.

"It would have meant starting over"

Town Manager Stuart Hurd said on Wednesday that the federal grant was not originally included in the project's construction cost. Hurd, who said earlier this week that he ordered construction to begin without a required wetland permit, said town officials applied for the grant in August. Construction activities began in June at the Bowen Road site destined for the town's new public works facility and adjacent 6,400-square-foot salt and sand shed.

"It would have meant throwing out the completed design, bidding the design contract and starting over," Hurd told the Banner on Wednesday. "That would have wasted a lot of time and thrown good money after bad. Furthermore, these federal projects move through a very cumbersome process. We were not aware of the tie to the federal rules when the application was filed. It would have saved bond funds, but was not essential to the project."

On Monday, Town Manager Stuart Hurd revealed that he had ordered the construction of the salt shed to proceed before a required state environmental permit had been approved. The permit arrived last week, months after construction had begun. A state environmental official confirmed Tuesday that an investigation is ongoing.

Hurd made a public apology before the Select Board, and accepted full responsibility for the incident.

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 80-by-80 foot shed to store sand and salt, road materials that have been kept at an aging facility on Orchard Road.

Just under $6 million in federal and state grants were awarded by VTrans in October. Those funds from the Municipal Highway and Stormwater Mitigation Program aimed to improve water quality.

The terms of the federal grant that the town rejected required approval of the project before any costs could be incurred.

Requests were ignored

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.

Hurd said he was not openly disregarding the wetland rules. The town worked for eight months to resolve the wetland issues at the site, he said, noting that the town's requests for an expedited process were ignored.

Hurd added that the project improved site conditions because it reduced paved surfaces and directed runoff away from the buffer.

"The conditions of the permit were known to us, and we followed them," he said.

The town operated in the role of general contractor. Tatro's Concrete Impressions was the successful concrete bidder at $242,500. Northtimber Associates was the carpentry bidder at $171,500.

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


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