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Doyle-Schechtman: The Bridge Bond

03/01/12 7:55AM By Deborah Doyle-Schechtman
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(Host) As a nearby neighbor of the Quechee Covered Bridge, writer and commentator Deborah Doyle-Schechtman has been considering how Tropical Storm Irene will impact the kinds of decisions that will be made this year at Town Meetings across the state.

(Doyle-Schechtman) On March 6 the voters in my town will be deciding the fate of a much beloved and ‘oft maligned covered bridge that was severely damaged by Tropical Storm Irene. And the road leading to the proposed bond issue for replacing the structure has been a bumpy one to say the least.

As the weeks of recovery passed, new facts presented themselves like rocks pushed up by frost on a dirt road come spring. There's been grousing about how long it's taken to get something done, how conflicted people are about change, and why things aren't completed in a more efficient way. After months of research, consultations, discussions and debates, not to mention endless frustration and disappointment, it's come down to this, because the Feds won't pay for a new bridge. They say what's standing is more than 50% sound so they'll repair it to the condition it was the day before the flood.

On the surface, that may seem fair enough and certainly frugal, but town officials and engineers believe that for a little more money they can build a bridge that would better meet current FHA criteria, more reliably withstand any future flooding, and last at least 75 years. The problem is, the town doesn't have the funds to make up the difference in price between the two. So, the voters will decide. But this vote won't just be about the bridge. It's ultimately about who we are as a neighborhood, a town, a county, and a state post Irene.

Thing is, this year many Town Meetings will be about proverbial bridges. Irene has not just left us with bills to pay, but also with some major questions to answer. We are being forced, on many levels, to reevaluate the nature of our built environment, redefine our sense of place, and examine our collective character. How we respond will shape who we will be on the other side of recovery, because the decisions we make in the coming days will be lasting.

What it boils down to is this: the choices before us are not unlike the rocks in the dirt road. We can gather them up, nudge them to the side, or cover them over. Each decision will have real and definitive consequences. The most expedient solution may not necessarily be the most prudent; and the most labor intensive could in fact be the most cost effective.

I find it remarkable to think that we voters have a real say in all of this, and Town Meeting provides the platform. By thinking critically and working collectively on the issues at hand, we can get to where we need and want to go. It's a complicated process perhaps, one that's often as trying as it is painful, but how lucky we are that in the end it ultimately comes down to us - to our freedom, our unity and how we choose to apply the two.
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