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One Burke Process Passed to Citizen Task Forces: Infrastructure in W. Burke to be Major Focus


By Amy Ash Nison, as seen in the Caledonian Record:

BURKE — The One Burke community visioning process brought to town by the Vermont Council on Rural Development on Tuesday evening wrapped up with a final session aimed at rallying interested citizens around a trio of actionable steps to improve the community.

Paul Costello, executive director of the organization, which works with government agencies, chiefly the USDA Rural Development, said the ‘One Burke’ title showed the town wants to unify and see all of its villages prosper.

West Burke will be the focus of one of the three committees to come out of the three-part visit process, which began in June.

Officials from the USDA Rural Development, the Vermont Superintendents Association, The Vermont Community Fund, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, Northern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), the SE Group and VTrans traveled to Burke this week to help the citizen-led task forces identify action steps and resources that could bring ideas to fruition.

Said Des Hertz, the chair of the community visit process and a town resident, “I feel like tonight is the night we get to really start getting some stuff done.”

The task forces that came out of the process are to: expand education facilities, to revitalize village infrastructure and to improve village traffic and pedestrian safety and to build a trail connecting East and West Burke.

In the focus group tasked with revitalizing village infrastructure, residents of all parts of Burke, East, West and Burke Hollow, gathered in a classroom with three USDA Rural Development staff members, led by Ben Doyle, a community and economic development specialist with the agency. They identified water and wastewater as the critical issues facing West Burke in particular, and will also look to see what public resources are available across the community for infrastructure - and what the needs are.

Involving citizens early on is critical, the USDA staff said, so they understand the needs and reasons for infrastructure upgrades when it comes time for a vote, and for money to have to be put on the line for the loan portion of a major project.

The group discussed that there is more potential for development and revitalization in West Burke, which is a designated village center and can get tax credit incentives. West Burke is also an incorporated village, with trustees, who will be reached out to, the group discussed. East Burke is also a designated village, the group discussed, but there are few spots for economic development remaining in the healthier of the two villages, which is home to both Burke Mountain Resort and Kingdom Trails, and has more operating businesses.

Tammy Wagner, who lives in West Burke with her family, is the chair of the infrastructure task force which will work on those big-ticket questions - and which appears to be putting a good amount of focus on West Burke, which has not gotten much attention in recent years, and has few remaining businesses. Once, West Burke was bustling, longtime residents say.

At one point in the discussion, Doyle asked, “Do you want to just focus on West Burke?”

West Burke has a number of vacant buildings, referred to by one citizen as “abandoned” and the lack of infrastructure is linked to why some possible development ideas would not be able to advance in present conditions, the group discussed. The East Burke Fire District, which provides water supply to several dozen customers, has been working with the USDA to obtain financing for a new water source, and is expanding its service territory to serve more people, the USDA staff said. The fire district representatives in town would be a good resource for the new task force to reach out to in terms of their decision to expand and how they worked with the USDA, the group was told.

Other infrastructure concerns raised include spotty cell phone service and Broadband, and Doyle said those concerns, too, can be brought forward after the committee gets a pulse on the situation town-wide. The group can bring information it gathers about needs for infrastructure improvements to the select board and seek help in obtaining a planning grant, the group was told. There are a handful of grant opportunities for major infrastructure projects the town can seek out, too, some up to 75 percent grant, 25 percent loan, the USDA staff explained.

In two other classrooms, the education group and the group focused on improving village traffic and pedestrian safety and creating a trail to connect East and West Burke, also rolled up their sleeves to get going. The new task forces will begin meeting regularly and will continue to reach out to the experts they were linked with for help in bringing the action steps they ultimately agree on forward.

Two members of the select board, Chair Chris Emmons and member Joe Allard, also thanked the residents for being involved in assisting local government officials with advancing ideas that can help all of Burke.

At the meeting’s start, residents were asked to choose from a list of ideas for how they envision Burke’s future, with such statements as these, “Burke is a town with economic opportunity,” and “Burke is a place people want to come to vacation, recreate, and spend their dollars,” and “Burke is able to maintain its rural charm and character as it grows.”

Emmons said, “I think it’s very important to move Burke together as one,” referencing the One Burke process name chosen by citizens, “Thank you all for being a part of this process.”

Costello said, “We’ve come a long way in a few months and I have to say, we love this town. This has been a great town to work with … We see so much power here, power to get things done, power to do good.”