The Colchester Causeway, a four-mile trail that cuts through Lake Champlain, remained closed past the bridge this week. Sections of the trail were gnawed away by rough waves and heavy rain in a May storm, rendering much of the pathway unfit for use by pedestrians and cyclists.
On June 5, the Vermont Agency of Transportation announced it would work with the town of Colchester and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to expedite repairs to the causeway and reopen the path in early July.
According to Glen Cuttitta, Colchester director of parks and recreation, these repairs will be funded separately from the federal aid the state hopes to receive to make repairs in five counties.
The state has issued requests for proposals for construction to open the path in a four-to-five-week window by July, Cuttitta said.
These repairs would consist of filling in the areas of the causeway that washed away, as well as resurfacing the path from the bridge to the cut. In a June 5 press release, Gov. Phil Scott said the causeway “is important for the community and our tourism sector.”
The economic impact of closing the path was undoubtedly a large factor in the decision to expedite repairs.
Cuttitta said engineers are looking at improvements to prevent similar damage from happening again, but that these repairs would occur at a later time.
Ben Rose, the recovery and mitigation section chief at Vermont Division of Emergency Management, said he can’t speak to VTrans’ planned repairs, but he believes they don’t include changes to make the causeway even more resilient. These would be considered a second phase of repairs, he said.
The town and Vt. Fish & Wildlife may later apply for hazard mitigation funds to bolster the causeway and protect it from future storm damage, he said, cautioning, “It’s not an easy process, and it’s not fast.”
Vermont must have suffered at minimum $1 million in damage to qualify for federal public disaster aid. For a county to qualify, damages must equal at least $3.68 per capita, multiplied by the 2010 census. The U.S. president must review and agree damages are sufficient to warrant federal aid.
Rose said FEMA validated Vermont’s preliminary damage assessment at $1.28 million, including $723,000 in Chittenden County, $246,000 in Grand Isle, $93,000 in Lamoille, $115,000 in Orange and $103,000 in Orleans.
“The bottom line is that we do not know if, ultimately, they’ll get FEMA funds. But the state will make repairs,” Rose said. “We’re committed to making resiliency repairs.”
VTrans project engineer Joel Perrigo said the agency planned to advertise the causeway repair project on Monday and allow contractors until June 14 to produce bids. He estimated the cost at $350,000, which does not include repairs to the bridge like in the original estimate.
Perrigo hopes to begin repairs on June 18 and finish by July 3.
But, VTrans highway division director and chief engineer Wayne Symonds said, weather could impact the timeline. He said the agency tried to “strike a balance” between increasing the project cost and accelerating its timeline.
“What was really expedited was getting permits and a contractor on board as opposed to [the pace of] the work,” he said.
Symonds said erosion will be repaired by resurfacing the path and adding backfill by the bridge. Perrigo explained the process begins with laying “type one” stone, or stones of 12 inches or less, to the damaged areas. Then a sub-base is added and then aggregate stone on top of that to create the walking and riding surface.
“It’s really simple fixes. We’re not changing it [the path], we’re not making anything better, just back to [its condition] before the storm hit,” Perrigo said.
The fixes will not take away from the threshold for declaration for FEMA aid but will not be eligible for federal reimbursement, according to Perrigo.
For now, though, the causeway’s closure has had an an impact, particularly on Local Motion, a Burlington-based bike rental company that operates a ferry across the cut in the causeway from May to October. Local Motion had to cease transportation services until the path reopens.
“We had already made a significant commitment: docks, the boat at the causeway,” said Tom Clark, the director of sales and marketing at Local Motion. “When it became fairly clear there wasn’t going to be a season, we had to pull the plug on the season we had already paid for.”
Clark said Local Motion had hired seasonal staff, captains and dock ambassadors, who have been unemployed since the closure. However, with the efforts to repair the path, he said Local Motion will operate its ferry as soon as the trail is reopened.
“People have called to say they’re ecstatic that the ferry will be open again,” Clark said.
The temporary closure may not spell loss for Local Motion, Clark said, citing low numbers last June due to rain.
“I’m almost thinking that because of the closure there might be some pent up demand,” he said. “If we get a string of great weather like July and August of 2017, hopefully our ridership will increase.”
He said the Colchester Causeway and Local Motion’s ferry have been mentioned in numerous articles in recent years, including in the Boston Globe and The New York Times.
“This bike trail is on the map,” Clark said, noting the trailside center has seen renters from 22 countries and 44 states in the last six weeks.
“It’s an important resource,” he said. “Just that little eight-minute ferry ride next to the Green Mountains on Lake Champlain sticks in people’s memories … it’s a remarkable place.”
Stay tuned to Colchester Parks & Recreation for updates on the closures and developments.