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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Road Closing Concerns

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pownal, Vt. – A downed tree laying atop electrical wires for almost 24 hours caused a portion of a town road to be closed, and roadway residents and school bus company officials said they were left with little information about the situation.

A significant portion of Niles School Road was closed from about 11 a.m. Oct. 26 until just past 9 a.m. Oct. 27 after a slender tree trunk snapped and sent limbs and leaves cascading fan-like to the ground below. The broken tree was laying atop aerial electrical power lines that appeared to be live, said Pownal Valley Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Joel Howard and town Highway Department Supervisor Casey Mattison.

A Nor’easter storm struck the region during Oct. 25 and 26; heavy, wet snow fell upon higher elevations of the town and caused the tree to snap.

Because the tree was making contact with the wires, town highway crews could not remove it, Mattison said.

The town elementary school was closed on Oct. 26 because of a power outage, but the Mount Anthony Union High School and middle school were open. The Dufour, Inc. bus company which transports town students to and from the Bennington, Vt. schools was not notified of the road closing by any town official, said Cindy Dufour, manager of the company’s Bennington bus garage.

“We were not notified at all, in any way, shape, or form, when the road was closed, or when it was opened,” Dufour said.

A company bus driver who resides on Niles School Road made bus company officials aware of the situation, Dufour said. School busses did travel along alternate routes to transport students home on Oct. 25 and to school on Oct. 26.

People driving along the road learned of the closure when they encountered fluorescent flags that stated the road was closed. The flags were posted on either side of the downed tree, which meant drivers had to turn around and seek other routes, which included driving to Hidden Valley Road and connecting with Ladd Road, or navigating the length of Ladd Road from Route 7 to Niles School Road.

The closing was not announced to area media outlets and those living in the affected area were unable to acquire information about how long the road would be closed. The posted signs did not indicate any electrical dangers to approaching drivers or pedestrians. In some cases, roadway travelers were flagged down by other drivers who told them the road ahead was closed; in other cases, neighbors contacted each other to inform them of situation.

Numerous drivers, believing that the tree had been removed during the overnight hours, encountered a closed road when they headed to work on Thursday morning and had to turn around and travel an alternate route.

James Kocsis of Mason Hill Road, which is accessed via Niles School Road, said that he believes signs warning of the closure should have been posted at the road’s access points. Drivers were well along their trek – in some cases, within just a few feet of their homes - when they came upon the signs announcing the closing, he said.

Kocsis said he first encountered the closed road at about 1 p.m. on Oct. 26.

“My first surprise was not finding out until you were halfway down the road that it was closed, and my second surprise was finding out that it was still closed when I came home from work,” he said. “I would have preferred better signage; that’s my main concern.”

Howard said that he traveled to the scene at about 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 26 after receiving a report that a tree had come down in front of a car. The tree was making contact with electrical wires that were smoking and sparking, he said. The vehicle was not struck by the tree and the driver was startled but uninjured, Howard said.

Fire department officials notified the Central Vermont Public Services company three times during Oct. 26 about the downed tree, he said. CVPS officials were told that the road was considered a priority road, he said, and added that had an emergency situation developed within the road closing area, detours would have added about eight minutes to emergency response times.

Kocsis said that he contacted CVPS officials about the situation and at least one other road resident reported the downed tree to the company as well. CVPS work crews were observed working in the Pownal area during the day on Oct. 26.

Resident frustration mounted as daylight faded and night fell with the tree still blocking the roadway. No reflective or illuminated devices were placed around the “road closed” flags after darkness fell, which meant that drivers driving during the night came abruptly upon the flags in the middle of the road. The downed tree was located on a bend in the road and was difficult to see from a distance in the darkness.

Howard said that he believed that CVPS workers would remove the tree at some point on Oct. 26 and that is why no reflective devices were placed at the site.

When contacted during the morning of Oct. 27, CVPS media spokesman Steven Costello said that hundreds of downed trees had been reported state-wide due to the strong storm, and over 40,000 CVPS customers had lost electrical service at some point during and immediately after the storm. Over 700 electrical power wires sustained damage during the storm, he said. Company employees were working diligently to make repairs and return electrical service to customers, he said. Calls are prioritized by the number of people without power and the hazards posed by situations such as downed, live wires, Costello noted.

Costello said that he did not have information about specific trees at precise locations, however, he agreed to investigate the situation. During a subsequent telephone interview, Costello said that work crews would be traveling to Niles School Road later in the morning to remove the tree.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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