WRC NEWSLETTER                                                      FALL 2020
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WRC Commissioners
November 3, 6:00 pm:

November 5, 6:00 pm:

November 9, 4:00 pm:
November 10, 6:00 pm:

November 12, 5:30 pm:
November 17, 4:00 pm:

November 19, 5:30 pm:

November 24, 6:00 pm:
**All Committee meetings take place virtual via Zoom. 
**All meetings are subject to change, please check the website for updates.

New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund
DEADLINE:  Rolling 

USDA Rural Development 
Communities with populations of 20,000 or less
DEADLINE:  Ongoing (contact USDA office)

Communities with populations of 10,000 or less
DEADLINE: Ongoing (contact USDA office)

Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development
DEADLINE:  Rolling
DEADLINE: Nov 2, 2020
DEADLINE:  Rolling
Vermont Natural Resources Council
DEADLINE:  Rolling
Vermont Community Foundation
Special & Urgent Needs
DEADLINE:  Rolling
Windham Regional Commission
DEADLINE:  Rolling 

DEADLINE:  Rolling 
For additional information about grant possibilities for your projects please contact Susan Westa.
Local Government Expense Reimbursement Grant for Local Government
Windham Regional Commission has been working with the Vermont Department of Taxes to assist municipalities and other units of local government in our region to apply for the Local Government Expense Reimbursement (LGER) Grant, which is a part of the Coronavirus Relief Fund package. Many municipalities incurred extra costs due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the LGER grant has been an unexpected relief to towns as a way to recoup some of their extra expenses. Among the items for which towns are requesting reimbursement are expenditures on personal protection equipment and additional cleaning supplies for municipal workers, alterations to town offices needed to meet social distancing and safety guidelines, and Hazard pay for frontline workers. For more information on this program, contact Margo Ghia at WRC.
Monitoring for Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)
You may have noticed these strange purple boxes hanging from a few trees in your town over the summer. These sticky purple traps are part of an EAB early detection program through the State. Set out for the summer months, these traps are checked a few times to see if any EAB has been found. This summer, the traps were placed in some of the towns in our region that are in higher risk zones.
The traps were located in Londonderry, Grafton, Marlboro, Brattleboro, Rockingham, Westminster, Windham, and Wilmington. The great news that as of the end of the monitoring season, no EAB were found in the traps. For an up to date map of the spread of EAB in Vermont please click here. 
 Notes from Finance
Finance Manager Inessa Muse is mostly working from the office. She wrapped up the FY2019 audit and single audit, is in the process of migrating transitioning us to the QuickBooks finance management software platform, and is preparing for the FY2020 audit that will begin in November.
Restoring Flood Resiliency
Along the Green River

The Green River Watershed Alliance was excited to help leverage some matching funds to support the Connecticut River Conservancy in their efforts to breach and remove two berms that were blocking the Green River from accessing needed flood plain in Halifax and Guilford. Berms along rivers are often the product of human construction to try to keep a river from flooding a piece of land, or due to deposits that have built up after a larger flooding event. To help build resiliency in our river systems and prevent more destructive flooding and damage to infrastructure downstream, rivers need to access floodplains to spread out and reduce floodwater energy. In addition, these stream restoration projects will increase the riparian buffer along the River when planted this coming spring. 

Executive Director

Associate Director

Office Manager

Finance Manager
Regional Transportation Planner 

Lisa Donnelly
Transportation Planning Tech


Senior Planner

Senior Planner

Senior Planner
WRC Welcomes New Transportation Planner!
Colin Bratton joined the WRC in September as our new Transportation Planner, and will be focused coordinating our regional Transportation Planning Initiative program as well as the update to the regional Transportation Plan. He is looking forward to working closely with the Transportation Committee and the towns of the Windham Region to improve transportation infrastructure and mobility across the region.
A Massachusetts native, Colin comes to the WRC from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor's of Science in Sustainable Community Development and a Bachelor's of Arts in History. During his time at UMASS Colin wrote for the student run newspaper, the Daily Collegian, and also worked as a student organizer, collaborating with the Pioneer Valley Project, a social advocacy organization serving the Springfield, MA area.
Prior to joining the WRC Colin interned at the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation, located in Ware, MA and served the broader region of rural communities in the valley located between Worcester and Springfield. There Colin worked on the Quaboag Connector transportation program, a demand response public transit service working to fill in the gaps left when fixed route bus service was cut from the Ware region. He also interned at Amherst Community Connections, a homelessness advocacy and social services non-profit located in Amherst, Mass. There Colin worked to connect individuals experiencing homelessness with housing, as well as other social services such as addiction treatment and job training.
Windham Region Broadband Project Wraps Up, DVCUD Moves Ahead
In what is a major milestone towards getting high-speed broadband to the unserved and underserved of the region, the final phase of the Windham Region Broadband Project, development of the Business Plan, is now complete! The Business Plan followed the development of a Feasibility Study, which confirmed a need for improved internet service in many parts of the Windham Region. "The Business Plan shows a clear path forward for the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVCUD) to launch and oversee a Fiber to the Premise (FTTP) network in the Windham Region." DVCUD, which serves as the CUD for the Windham Region as a whole and includes towns outside of the region, will use the Business Plan to guide implementation of broadband fiber service to the unserved and underserved areas of the region first.
A webinar that shared the findings of the Business Plan was presented virtually on October 7th on Zoom. Team members, Alex Kelley from Rural Innovations Strategies Inc. and Carole Monroe from ValleyNet, shared an overview of the plan and answered questions from the public. Representatives of the DVCUD were also on hand to discuss next steps and answer additional questions. A recording of the webinar is available on the Windham Region Broadband page, as is the Business Plan.
The Business Plan focused on the 15 communities who have already joined the DVCUD. They include: Brattleboro, Dover, Guildford, Halifax, Jamaica, Londonderry, Marlboro, Readsboro, Stamford, Stratton, Vernon, Wardsboro, Whitingham, Wilmington and Wardsboro. However, the Business Plan is a living document, which will be updated and revised as new communities join the DVCUD. DVCUD is welcoming all interested communities from throughout the region. The feasibility study and business plan both note that a larger CUD with more member towns will be more effective. To learn more about DVCUD click here.
Tactical Basin Planning Draft Development Underway for Basin 11 
West, Williams and Saxtons Rivers and Tributaries

Rivers in the State of Vermont are broken down geographically into 15 River Basins. On a 5-year cycle, these basins undergo monitoring for water quality, planning for water quality improvements, and implementation of projects. Tactical Basin plan 11/13 (which includes the West, Williams, and Saxtons Rivers as well as several direct tributaries to the Connecticut River) has just started its 5-year update to its plan. Windham Regional Commission, on behalf of the VT DEC, is seeking input to water quality issues and concerns throughout Basin 11.

WRC, working with the Saxtons River Watershed Collaborative, recently held a public information and input session on the Saxtons River Watershed. The local information shared at the public meeting was very informative and will help generate updates to the Basin Plan. WRC will be helping coordinate other information sessions in the West River Watershed soon. If you would like to provide input for the upcoming Basin Plan 11/13 update, please contact Margo Ghia.
Busy Summer for Brownfields Projects in the Windham Region
The Windham Region Brownfields Steering Committee accepted new projects into the program last spring from Brattleboro and Guilford. Phase I Assessments are complete and Phase II Assessments are underway for redevelopment projects at the Sanel Building and CF Church Building in Brattleboro, as well as the Winchester property in Guilford. Assessments are used to determine if contamination is present and if so, the extent of contamination. Due to the industrial heritage of our region, we have many contaminated sites to address.
This summer WRC also wrapped up ongoing assessment projects in Brattleboro, Londonderry, Guildford, Bellows Falls, Whitingham and Grafton. Two of these projects will be redeveloped for trail related uses, three for new or continued industrial use, and one is mixed use. We are working with the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center on corrective action planning to prepare for cleanup at 11 Arch Street. This site will be part of the museum's expansion project.
The Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) program, which provides funds for cleanup work, has also been busy. Red Clover Commons 2 (RCC2) is a continuation of a previous WRC brownfields cleanup project. RCC was redeveloped to create new affordable housing units and to move existing housing units out of the Whetstone Brook floodplain. RCC2 will be provide additional affordable housing by redeveloping a parking lot. WRC provided a low interest loan to the Brattleboro Housing Authority and Housing VT to cover cleanup costs. 

We also recently accepted a preliminary application from Windham Windsor Housing Trust for grant to cover cleanup costs for the Bellows Falls Garage project. This site will be redeveloped for affordable housing, as will the Sanel Building in Brattleboro. It is exciting to be involved in so many important projects throughout our region. 
SAVE the DATE for
Community Development Webinar
Community Development Models: An Overview
Tripp Muldrow, FAICP, is a planner and economic development consultant who has worked nationally, as well as throughout Vermont. Tripp will share organizational models, state and national resources, case studies, and practical advice on how to organize, engage, and plan for village centers, communities, and regions. He will focus on how these organizations have worked and how they are adapting to dynamic challenges facing communities brought about by the national pandemic, shifting demographics, and dramatic change. His presentation is solutions-oriented and tailored to the uniqueness of Vermont's communities.   The discussion will conclude with questions from the participants.
When:October 28, 2020 @ 6:00 PM
Where: Virtual on Zoom Or Call 1-646-558-8656
Register with Susan Westa, 802-257-4547, ext.108

The webinar is free but space is limited.
Notes from the GIS and Transportation 
Field Staff

It's certainly gratifying when a staff member sends an email which contains the phase "Best. Job. Ever." Granted, Lisa Donnelly, WRC's GIS and Transportation Technician, was motivated by the beautiful scenery she saw while out doing field work, but still, one of the great benefits for GIS staff is getting out in our towns and doing on-the-ground work.

WRC's count program has been going full tilt this summer. We've conducted traffic studies at 17 different locations in four towns. Our bicycle tube counter has been put to good use tracking cyclists on six main routes into downtown Brattleboro. And our pedestrian counters have been out at nearly two-dozen locations in the Windham Region, from downtown Brattleboro to the remote corners of Searsburg. We've captured some valuable data documenting a major increase in trail traffic (and unfortunately a significant decrease in downtown traffic) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our towns are working hard to meet the requirements of the Municipal Roads General Permit (MRGP). One way staff have been helping towns is by conducting road erosion inventories. Londonderry, Winhall, Rockingham, Marlboro, and Guilford will all see inventories this year. Most of our towns have been participating in the Grants in Aid program, which reimburses towns for construction work to bring their roadways up to MRGP standards. WRC staff have been coordinating this program in the Windham Region, which offers nearly $400,000 to participating towns. While the FY20 program is winding down, FY21 funds are now available, meaning we'll be back out this fall meeting with our road foremen (socially distanced, with masks, of course), data collection tablet in hand.

While field work may be a highlight of the job, GIS staff certainly spend their share of time in front of a computer doing seemingly more mundane though no less important tasks. "Can you make a map of Bellows Falls that divides equally our multi-family units into four distinct areas, so our once-in-four-year inspections are spread out evenly?" Or "Can you make a map for Grafton's Village Center Designation application?" Or, "We'd like a map of Dover showing all road names and all E911 addresses." Maps like these may seem mundane, but it's always rewarding to walk into a town highway garage and see a WRC culvert map on the wall, full of mark-ups and dirty fingerprints. We're glad the products of our efforts being used.

Besides Lisa, WRC GIS staff include Jeff Nugent and our summer employee Abby Touchet. Abby has been helping out us this fall as she returns to her studies at Keene State. We've also been working closely with WRC's water quality planner, Margo Ghia and are introducing our new transportation planner, Colin Bratton, to the work.

Looking Ahead
Last summer my "From the Director" newsletter article posited a number of "what if" scenarios related to potential growth and change and our readiness for it, especially in our land use planning. At the time I was thinking about the potential for exurban growth up the Route 2 and I-91 corridors, the impacts of climate change and sea level rise that will cause retreat from coastal areas throughout New England, and major disasters such as the 1938 hurricane. Notably missing from those "what ifs" was a global pandemic, and a national, broad-based demand for racial justice action.

Today we find ourselves in the midst of the ebb and flow of a global pandemic and a related economic recession, both of which are incredibly uneven in their impacts. We have lost friends and family to the virus, and have seen what can happen when we collectively act to prevent its spread. We have evidence of people moving to the state, many with children, which would indicate a potential increase in our working age population, even as others are trying desperately to hold onto their housing as their income has declined or even vanished for reasons utterly out of their control. Individuals and communities are being awakened to the experience of racial injustice and systemic racism by people of color in towns and the state, sometimes resulting in meaningful discussion and action, and sometimes confronting denial that there are any issues to be resolved. Agencies, organizations and communities have stood up innovative means to feed the hungry and support local restaurants and farms, but long-standing structural issues in the dairy market, coupled with COVID-driven changes in milk consumption, are crushing dairy farms. If there was doubt about the impact of the digital divide between the high-speed broadband haves and have nots, we now better understand what access to broadband can mean for work, education, health care, and simply reducing feelings of social isolation.

In last year's article I noted that it is not easy to predict what effects large-scale disasters will have in the near and long-term. We're still in the middle of the COVID-19 tempest. But what might the history of the pandemic thus far tell us about paths forward?
  • As a state we have shown that we can have the will and means to feed and house those who are in need.
  • Coupling remote means of public engagement with in-person engagement could increase public participation overall.
  • In the midst of this pandemic the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (CUD) was able to stand itself up as the CUD for the region, and will be the best means to provide high speed broadband to the unserved and underserved. Awareness of the need has likely never been greater, and new residents might improve the economic viability of the effort.
  • If remote work, or partially remote work, becomes more acceptable and more the norm in the wake of the pandemic, Vermont could become a more popular destination for those who want to move here and bring their jobs with them. This could possibly broaden the household income and economic base of those areas of our region that are dependent upon the resort economy. It could also be a means of reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gases emitted.
  • If awareness of racial injustice and structural racism translates into meaningful action, it could be easier to retain people of color who already live here, and could make Vermont more attractive to the larger population of the United States, which is incredibly diverse.
  • If Vermont and Vermonters can continue to act in the shared interest of one another to knock down the spread of the virus in the state, the direct and indirect pain and misery of the pandemic will be reduced and we'll likely experience a faster economic recovery. It's an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of unity in Vermont's state motto, Freedom and Unity.
  • It remains to be seen if the current active real estate market will translate into the development of new housing, and if Vermont will continue to remain a popular destination. We also won't know for some time whether economic circumstances related to the pandemic and recession will cause people to leave the state. In the short run, our existing housing shortage and housing affordability challenge will be worse as inventory is reduced and prices have been driven up. But in the longer run can we figure out a path towards greater housing affordability and availability? Will we see expanded opportunity in the building trades? Can we build upon our green building knowledge cluster?
We no doubt have hard days ahead as winter approaches and as infections and hospitalizations around the nation head towards a new spike, but we must look forward. We've seen what we can do as a state when we work together to defend against the pandemic and support those in need. At the WRC we will do everything we can to help with the ongoing pandemic response, but it is my intent that we will also provide opportunities for us all to look ahead to life and living in southeast Vermont beyond the pandemic.

On October 28th, we are hosting a Community Development webinar presented by a nationally known planner and expert in disaster recovery, Tripp Muldrow. Tripp's presentation will lay the groundwork for communities looking to revitalize and move forward beyond the pandemic. We hope to provide more opportunities in the upcoming year to help all communities in the region as they consider their best path forward.
Windham Regional Commission 
139 Main Street, Suite 505
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Phone: (802) 257-4547
Fax: (802) 254-6383