Adding insult to injury

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copyright the Chronicle February 7, 2018

State government is capable of coming up with some pretty bad ideas, but Representative Brian Smith of Derby called attention to a doozy last week.

Mr. Smith, who is also a longtime selectman, held a mini-hearing for other town officials in his district at the start of last week’s Derby Select Board meeting. He wanted to hear their views on new water quality regulations that affect how municipalities maintain roads, and the costs involved.

To oversimplify a bit, what it comes down to is that the state has mandated how towns will take care of roads in order to improve water quality, and it’s making municipalities pay for the privilege of complying.

The Legislature’s new rules aimed at reducing water pollution apply to agriculture, forestry, paved areas, and roads.

For municipalities, the rules specify new standards for road ditching and drainage. Towns are required to get a permit to do general roadwork and maintenance, and they must pay an annual $2,000 fee. For specific one-off projects, like putting in a culvert, they must get an individual permit and pay $240. They get nothing in return except permission to do their jobs.

At the same time that it’s put in new fees, the state has upped the standards for roadwork. For instance, municipalities must line ditches with riprap, which isn’t free.

The state also now has a hand in regulating the quality of gravel that should be used for certain road projects, at a time when it’s getting harder and harder to even find gravel.

Towns are also being encouraged to use less salt and sand, and if too much sand gets in the ditches, those ditches have to be cleaned. That means the riprap has to be taken out, the ditch cleared, and the riprap put back.

Sounds like that old joke about being in the Army and moving a pile of dirt from one place to another, then back again.

Most towns, at least around here, have fairly meager road crews, who are busy plowing, sanding, grading, and keeping the roads generally passable and relatively free of potholes.

Few have either the manpower or the money to rebuild all their roads and ditches to new state standards. And towns aren’t always successful in finding people who want to work on a road crew. Low pay, dreadful hours, out in the worst of weather. Not much there to entice a person.

But the real kicker is the nerve of the state to actually require that towns pay a fee in order to maintain their roads. The fees aren’t the only added costs either. There’s the expense of materials and increased labor.

Representative Smith pointed out that state government rarely listens to a single voice, but if municipal officials got together and raised some of their concerns with a unified voice, they might get a response. Let’s hope he’s right. Meanwhile, we credit him with making the effort. — T.S.

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