The Lamoille Valley Rail trail is a proposed four-season pedestrian path. It would stretch nearly 100 miles from Saint Johnsbury to Swanton, but it has hit some hurdles on the path to construction.
Bryant Watson, Executive Director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, said, "We are trying to determine what the state of Vermont's commitment is to this project and their willingness to work with VAST as our partner."
VAST presented the plan 12 years ago. The organization says the project would stimulate the economy in rural areas that are struggling in our state.
"We are going to clean the ditches, de-brush the sides of the trail, scarify the surface, put a new surface down, and replace bridges that need to be replaced," Watson explained.
The project hit a snag when state officials decided the rail trail needed Act 250 approval. So, VAST invited lawmakers to a special meeting in Berlin Wednesday to try to find a way around the permitting process, or help getting through it.
Watson said, "If we do have to we want to make sure that we are going to get a commitment from the state that they will assist us in that process."
The rail trail has an estimated $9 million price tag. VAST has raised $1.3 million for the project, and Senator Bernie Sanders secured $5.3 million in federal money, but those federal funds will not last forever.
"If we get in a long drawn out process with Act 250 that money could go away," Watson said.
Four previous projects similar to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail did not require Act 250 approval. With more than 900 property owners along the path some fear getting everyone on board will be nearly impossible, thus derailing the rail trail.
"We see that Act 250 is expanding, it's kind of expanding its grounds and covering projects it never has covered in the past," said Watson.
Special Assistant to the Governor Susan Bartlett sees it differently. She said, "A lot of them are upset and oh it is not fair, and we cannot do it. Well they went through a legal process to challenge whether they needed it or not. The results came back; they were told they need to go through the process so they need to go through the process."
Bartlett said the group has backing from the governor and should not be gun-shy about the permitting process. "They have the green light on all the difficult things that deal with storm water, replacing culverts and rebuilding bridges. All kinds of things," she said.
But supporters like Kenneth Gamell disagree, "It is not fair, and I think it needs to be corrected."
"My grandson was 2 years old I promised he and I were going to ride from Saint Johnsbury to Swanton, and he was going to sit between my legs on the snow machine. Today, he is 14 years old and weighs 180 pounds, and he is 6 feet tall. I do not think he can sit between my legs anymore," Gamell said.
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