Agency of Natural Resources holds Bennington Bypass hearing

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(Host) Construction is set to begin on phase two of the Bennington ByPass this spring.

The Agency of Natural Resources held a public hearing last night on the impact the new, Northern Leg of Route 279 will have on wetlands.

But most of the decisions about the project have already been made, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) The Bennington Bypass has been in the works so long it predates Act 250, which was passed in 1970. It’s grandfathered out of that permit process.

The Army Corps of Engineers has already provisionally approved the state’s plan to compensate for the wetlands the bypass will destroy.

But the plan also needs a water quality certificate from the state. And that was the subject of this hearing.

Charlene Brodie is a field naturalist for the project. She says engineers have already created a new 25-acre wetland site to compensate for the 15 acres of wetlands the project will damage.

(Brodie) “And if you go there now it’s covered with wetland plants in there, a lot of beavers and birds and ducks and geese.”

(Keese) Among the handful of residents at the hearing was Peter Souza, who recently moved to Bennington. Souza didn’t approve.

(Souza) “This whole plan is not justified. And the funding should be pulled immediately. These ponds, streams, wetlands and the quality of life of the residents around there. These have been evolving for generations to become what they are today. And now you bring bulldozers in and heavy equipment and engineers that claim –of course I believe a lot of engineers are trying to do the right thing, but it never turns out that way.”

(Keese) But officials at the meeting made it clear that the time for those arguments was past. Albert Krawczyk is a former Bennington legislator and a member of the state transportation board.

(Krawczyk)”I think most people are in favor of it. We’ve already noticed we’ve got less 18 wheelers coming down into Bennington.”

(Keese) The bypass was planned to divert heavy truck traffic away from the town center. The first leg of the Bypass opened in 2004, with a price tag of about $55 million.

It allows traffic from New York State to join U.S. Route 7 heading to Manchester and Rutland without traveling through town. Krawczyk says he’s heard that some businesses have been negatively impacted.

(Krawczyk) “I think it will be positive in the long run. You know, there’s a lot of worries. It’s bound to be. But it’ll come about.”

(Keese) The three-mile Northern leg is expected to cost about $100 million including land acquisitions and other costs. Officials say the price tag could be higher by the time the project is finished in 2012.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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