Jeffersonville receives $125,000 grant to support floodplain conservation
The Village of Jeffersonville has received a $125,000 grant from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) toward the purchase of a 4.2-acre parcel in the floodplain previously earmarked for development of a 16-pump gas station and convenience-store complex.
“This is a tremendous boost to our efforts to purchase the land and an important validation of our efforts to conserve a major floodplain in our community,” said Village Trustee Tammy Fenton. “We are extremely grateful that the Board recognized the importance of this land to flood-remediation efforts in our community.”
Village trustees signed an agreement in January to purchase the land from Jolley Associates of St. Albans for $402,500 as a way to prevent the proposed development at the site, which is near the confluence of the Brewster and Lamoille rivers and experienced major flooding in April 2011.
An ad-hoc citizens group working with the trustees has raised $127,000 in donations to apply to the purchase price, bringing the total raised to date to $252,000. In addition, Village residents recently voted to allocate up to $75,000 in local taxpayer funds toward the purchase if needed. The measure passed at the Village’s annual meeting in May and was confirmed at a special meeting in August called to reconsider the original vote.
“VHCB is pleased to support Jeffersonville’s efforts to conserve this property,” said Gus Seelig, VHCB executive director. “Conserving land along rivers and floodways develops flood resiliency while allowing for public recreation and wildlife habitat preservation. Protecting this property will prevent future expenses that would be incurred by the town, homeowners and private business in the event of another flood were the land to be developed.”
Trustees received word of the grant Thursday, Sept. 20, after attending a VHCB meeting to discuss their request for $150,000. Meanwhile, efforts to raise the additional $150,500 needed to finalize the sale continue. Trustees expect to receive another $19,000 grant in the coming weeks and are exploring other grant opportunities to raise the money without tapping into Village coffers. Several fundraisers are in the works as well, including a raffle to be drawn at the Oct. 17 Jeffersonville Farmers Market.
Trustees will receive the VHCB grant at closing pending a satisfactory outcome of the soil study now under way, the conveyance of a conservation easement to VHCB providing public access to the land and prohibiting commercial development, and the presentation of plan outlining proposed public uses and how the site will be maintained to ensure ongoing flood remediation. A $60,000 grant from the Lamoille County Planning Commission is covering the full cost of the soil study.
Jolley originally purchased the land – the former site of the Bell-Gates Lumber Corp., located along Route 15 by the blinking light in Jeffersonville – in May 2010. It was recently appraised for $414,899.
By keeping the land free of major development, the Village is poised to serve as a model for the rest of the state – one that takes action to avert disaster before it happens. Citing the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, which the area narrowly avoided, Governor Shumlin has called on communities to safeguard floodplains from development in an effort to avoid future Irene-scale disasters.
Area residents have suggested a number of ideas for how the Jolley parcel might be used, including year-round open space for farmers’ markets, sports, community concerts and festivals. For now, however, the focus is on raising the balance of the funds required to finalize the purchase. Donations payable to the Village of Jeffersonville can be sent to the Village at P.O. Box 189, Jeffersonville, VT 05464.
“In conjunction with other improvements planned for the Village, eventually we’ll be looking at ways the land can be used to bring more people to our great community and support our local economy,” said Fenton. “Ultimately it will be up to the residents to decide. They’re the ones who are making all of this possible.”